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Rotherhithe Gas Works and a soon to be lost Gas Holder

If you have a gas boiler or cooker, the chances are that the gas you use could come from the North Sea, Norway, or via ship carried liquefied natural gas from countries such as Qatar, Russia and Trinidad to the terminal on the Isle of Grain in the Thames Estuary. When gas started to be used as an energy source in the 19th century, the production of gas was very local to consumers, and for this week’s post I am exploring one such production facility, the Rotherhithe Gas Works.

I have marked the location for today’s post by the red star in the following map  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Rotherhithe Gas Works

That is not a bridge across the Thames at the point of the star, it is the way Openstreetmap shows the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

The reason for the post on the Rotherhithe Gas Works is because of a photo taken by my father in 1948. The following photo shows what is probably open space following the demolition of bomb damaged houses, with in the background, parts of two large gas holders.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

I wanted to find the location of the photograph. I knew from my father’s notes that the location was Rotherhithe, but not from where the photo had been taken. The two gas holders were obvious clues, however the area is very different today, so I started off with the 1950 edition of the Ordnance Survey map of the area.

I have copied the photo below, added the map extract and marked up key points shown in both photo and map, and the approximate location where my father was standing to take the photo. I needed to rotate the map to get a similar orientation to the photo, so north is at the bottom and south at the top of the map.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

The red oval marks a semidetached pair of houses. To the left of these houses, there appears to be a tall wooden fence, and next to the fence, a terrace of older houses (you may need to click on the photo and enlarge to see the details of these clearly). These are the terrace houses shown by the green oval on the map.

In the background are the two large gas holders. The one on the right appears to be a larger circumference than the holder on the left, which matches both photo and map. Part of the gas holder on the left is obscured by a large building, again the same in both photo and map.

Extending the alignment of these features back, and they converge at a point on a street which again aligns with the photo as part of a street is in the lower right corner.

Rotating the map back to the correct orientation, and the street is Neston Street, marked below with the red star. The terrace of houses on the right of the street ends in a blank space on the map which corresponds with the 1948 photo (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Rotherhithe Gas Works

So it should be simple to find the location today? Not very, as the area has changed so much. In the 1950 map above, All the large buildings between the round gas holders and the River Thames at top left, were part of the Rotherhithe Gas Works. To the left, there was some housing, along with other industrial buildings, and the area had also suffered bomb damage.

The Rotherhithe Gas Works closed in 1959, and over the last few decades, the area has been considerably redeveloped with new housing now covering all the original site of the gas works (with one exception). Roads have changed, and Neston Street has disappeared.

Marking Neston Street on today’s map of the area (red line) allows the location of the 1948 photo to be identified (red star),

Rotherhithe Gas Works

I needed to visit the site to see the area today, and to find one of the two remaining elements of the Rotherhithe Gas Works infrastructure, one that may not be around for too much longer.

I walked along Rotherhithe Street from the west, and walked up Canon Beck Road (to the left of the red line), a road that appears on both today’s and the 1950 map.

Just over half way along Canon Beck Road is a short entrance road to a residential square, Clifton Place. This is shown in the photo below:

Rotherhithe Gas Works

Neston Street would have run, left to right along the front and over part of the houses at the far end of the photo. To take the 1948 photo, my father was probably standing somewhere around the green and blue bins to the left of the photo.

Looming in the back of the above photo is one of the two remaining parts of the Rotherhithe Gas Works – the gas holder also seen to the left of the 1948 photo.

As well as visiting the site of my father’s photo, the gas holder was the second reason for wanting to visit, as it may well be soon disappearing as a local landmark, and a reminder of the industrial history of this part of Rotherhithe.

I walked up to Brunel Road. The terrace of houses along Brunel Road are not part of the redevelopment of the last few decades, they are much earlier. The gas holder can be seen in the background.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

Walking along Brunel Road up to the location of the gas holder, to find the one remaining holder from the gas works, sitting in the space that was also once occupied by the second gas holder in the 1948 photo.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

The remaining gas holder may not be here for long. Plans have been submitted for a complete redevelopment of the site which includes the land occupied by the gas holder, and the surrounding land.

The work will involve the demolition of the gas holder, and the infill of the tank below the gas holder, and the tanks below ground of the gas holders that have already been demolished.

Considerable work will involve removing contamination of the land and the move of operational gas piping and controls that still occupy the site.

The current plans appear to cover the construction of:

  • 40 dwellings for social rent
  • 39 dwellings for discount market rent
  • 198 private dwellings

The plans include the intention “To celebrate the character of the site and its industrial heritage”, which as far as I can see runs to “Balconies and stairways take reference from the industrial metal work” and “Pitched roofs reference the storage sheds associated with the Surrey Water Docks” along with the use of the colour red to accentuate certain features to recall the colour of the existing gas holder.

There is a web site for the proposed development, which includes presentations on the proposed work. It can be found under the name of the development Rotherhithe Holder Station.

A view of the gas holder and the surrounding land which is in-scope of the proposed development:

Rotherhithe Gas Works

The history of the Rotherhithe Gas Works is complex, and tells the story of the consolidation of the local gas companies throughout the 19th century and nationalisation in the 20th century.

Using a number of resources (which I will list at the end of the post), I have attempted to put together a graphical history of the Rotherhithe Gas Works, their ownership, and mergers with other gas companies. Be aware that there are various conflicting dates for some events, and also definition of a date, for example when a gas works became operational, the incorporation of a company by Act of Parliament etc.

Any corrections would be appreciated.

The following graphic shows how the Rotherhithe Gas Works (starting at left and highlighted by the red dotted line) integrated with London’s gas companies through to closure in 1959.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

The first gas works in Rotherhithe seem to have commenced construction by Stephen Hutching in around 1849, with the works becoming part of the Surrey Consumers Gas Company, a company incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1854.

In the mid 19th century there were many concerns about the quality of the gas provided to consumers and the cost, with companies having a monopoly within their local supply area. An 1849 article in The Era titled “Gas Monopolists In A Fever”  talks about the need for gas companies who can supply gas “free from sulphureted hydrogen, acid and ammonia” and the extortionate price charged with upwards of 15 shillings per 1,000 cubic feet, where independent calculations estimate that gas can be produced using modern methods for 2 shillings per 1,000 cubic feet.

The Surrey Consumers Gas Company merged with the South Metropolitan Gas Company in 1879, which brought together two gas companies serving south and south east London.

In 1881, the South Metropolitan purchased a large area of land on the Greenwich Peninsula and started the construction of the gas works which would go on to be one of London’s major gas producing centres for many years.

The South Metropolitan Gas Company would continue to integrate other, smaller companies, including the Phoenix Gas Company based in Bankside in 1880, the Consumers Gas Company in Woolwich and the Equitable Gas Company in Pimlico, both in 1885.

Probably because of the growth of sites such as the Greenwich Peninsula and Rotherhithe, the South Metropolitan closed and sold off sites at Woolwich and Bankside.

Reading newspaper references to London’s gas companies throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are very many references to the monopoly position of these private companies, the cost of gas and frequently the quality of the gas, and pollution from the gas producing works.

In January 1860 the Surrey Consumers Gas Company were at Southwark Police court being charged by the Bermondsey vestry under the Nuisance Removal Act “for that they, in the manufacture of gas on their premises at Rotherhithe, did, on or about the 16th inst. cause an intolerable nuisance to exist as to be dangerous and injurious to the inhabitants of the parish of Bermondsey”.

The issue in January 1860 seems to have been a considerable amount of ammonia in the gas supply which had not been removed by the purifiers at the Rotherhithe gas works, and was causing a very bad smell, and health problems to those in Bermondsey who consumed the gas.

In 1875 at the half yearly meeting of the Surrey Consumers Gas Company, the news reports stated that the meeting “must have been attended with considerable interest by the fortunate individuals who hold shares therein. They have been too long accustomed to their unfailing profit of 10 per cent per annum. The balance sheet was as good as had ever been issued by the company”.

Consumer groups were frequently formed and south London’s vestries were often complaining about the costs and quality of gas, and there were many arguments that such companies should be publicly rather than privately owned.

London’s gas consumers would have to wait until 1949 for this to happen, when the countries gas companies were nationalised by the post war Labour government and the South Metropolitan Gas Company along with other London gas companies were merged into local gas boards under public ownership.

Ownership of gas provision came full circle when the nationalised gas board was privatised in 1986 as British Gas, and since then many of the arguments about the cost of gas are very similar to those in 19th century newspapers.

The production of gas was a very dirty business. Coal was heated in a furnace, which produced a range of gases including hydrogen and carbon monoxide. These gases were passed through a condenser where solids and liquids such as tar would be removed, before passing through a purifier where impurities such as sulpher and ammonia would be removed.

The gas was then fed to the gas holders ready for distribution at pressure to gas consumers.

An impression of the interior of the Rotherhithe Gas Works can be had from the following artwork dated 1918, with women working in the “retort” area (retorts are the furnaces where coal was heated to produce gas).

Rotherhithe Gas Works


 Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/105

Work at the Rotherhithe gas works was dangerous and there are newspaper accounts of accidents within the works. For example, when one of the gas holders was being built in 1890, a labourer named Barnes, aged 23, working for the contractors Clacton & Son of Leeds, died after falling twenty feet to the base of the holder.

Workers at the gas works had the Rotherhithe Gas Works Institute, and in October 1894, five crews from the institute raced on the Thames from the coal jetty at the gas works to Deptford Creek.

Discovery of North Sea gas in the 1960s resulted in the replacement of so called Town Gas from gas works such as that at Rotherhithe, by gas piped from below the North Sea. Although Rotherhithe has already closed in 1959, the majority of coal based gas works in the country had closed by the 1980s.

The lone gas holder at Rotherhithe now stands as an isolated reminder of this period of south London industrial history.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

The gas holder stands next to the remains of another of the areas lost industries. This is the Surrey Basin, one of the few reminders of the large area of docks that once occupied this area of Rotherhithe. The towers of the Isle of Dogs are in the background.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

The following photo is from Salter Road, a road that did not exist when the Rotherhithe gas works were in operation. The space in front of the camera, and the space occupied by the houses behind the trees was the space covered by the buildings of the gas works, which fed gas to the gas holders which are to the left of where I was standing to take the photo.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

Crossing Salter Road and looking back at the gas holder, which now supports mobile phone antennae’s at the very top.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

The following map from 1895 shows three gas holders with the main buildings of the Rotherhithe Gas Works to their north. There were a total of four gas holders over the life of the gas works (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Rotherhithe Gas Works

Of the three shown in the map above, one was destroyed by war time bombing. I suspect that this was the smaller holder between the two outer holders, as it is not shown in the 1950 map, or in my father’s photo. The larger of the two gasholders was demolished at the same time as the rest of Rotherhithe gas works in the 1960s and 70s, leaving only the holder that remains today.

Apart from the gas holder, there is part of the site wall remaining alongside the Surrey Basin. Another part of the gas works infrastructure that we can see today is shown in the above map. If you look at the very top centre of the map there is a pier extending into the River Thames.

This was the pier used by ships bringing coal to the gas works, and looking at the map, you can see the conveyor system that carried coal from the pier, over Rotherhithe Street, to the retorts where the coal would be heated to produce gas.

The Rotherhithe Gas Works pier remains today. The view looking west:

Rotherhithe Gas Works

Looking east along the river with the gas works pier, and the round air shaft building for the Rotherhithe Tunnel behind the pier on the right.

Rotherhithe Gas Works

The Rotherhithe Tunnel was built under part of the site of the gas works, and during Parliamentary inquiries into the tunnel, the South Metropolitan Gas Company objected to the construction of the tunnel. Mr. George Livesey, chairman of the gas company stated in his evidence that “the proposed tunnel would pass under a corner of the works of the gas company where they had important buildings, retort houses, coalhouses, and so forth. These structures were of considerable weight, and the foundations were thoroughly sound. If there was any disturbance to the foundations – which were taken down to the gravel – it would put the retort house out of use, and if that happened in winter time it would be a very serious matter.

Pumping operations such as would have to be carried out by the County Council in constructing their tunnel might be a source of serious damage to the company’s works. The gas tanks were set into deep excavations full of water, and if this water and the sand in the foundations were interfered with the results would be that the tanks would leak”

it appears that the company had suffered damage to their operations on the Greenwich Peninsula when the Blackwall tunnel had been built, and they had not received any compensation for this damage, and they wanted a clause in the bill for the Rotherhithe tunnel to ensure they received compensation for any damage to the Rotherhithe works.

The statement about the gas tanks being set into deep excavations, full of water explains why the site today is a complex site to prepare for new building. The tank below ground of the existing gas holder is still in place, as is the tank of the demolished gas holder which was simply capped at the time. These tanks will need to be drained of polluted water and sludge and the hole refilled ready for building above.

I am not sure what the current state of the proposals for the site development are, I suspect that COVID has delayed the process.

Whilst there is an obvious need for more housing across London, it is a shame that another part of London’s industrial history will be disappearing.

This post has covered the history of the gas companies and the Rotherhithe gas works at a very superficial level, this is the problem with a weekly blog, I can only cover topics to a limited level.

The National Archives have a brief summary of the history of each gas company. Use the search box on their site to search for a company. The Early London Gas Industry site by Mary Mills is a fantastic resource covering the gas industry in London.

Although the area has changed significantly since 1948, I am pleased to have found the location of another of my father’s photos. Rotherhithe and Bermondsey is an area I will be returning to in the future.

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Sans Walk, a Fenian Outrage and the Edge of London

There are three photos in my father’s collection that I have not been able to identify. They were labelled “Sans Walk area”. Sans Walk is in Clerkenwell, and the first photo shows what appears to be an empty shell of a building, probably damaged during the war.

Sans Walk

The second photo shows a corner house, in good condition and still occupied, with a lovely street lamp on the corner of the building:

Sans Walk

The third and final photo shows part of a terrace of houses, with a streetlamp and bollards in the foreground.

Sans Walk

No street names, or any other identifiable features to help locate the photos.

I thought if I walked the area around Sans Walk, I should be able to identify some of the locations. I had no idea whether the houses in the photos had been restored or demolished, but armed with printed copies of the photos I set off to walk the area on an early Autumn day.

Although I could not find the locations of the photos, what I did discover was an area packed full of history, and that once formed the edge of London as the city gradually expanded to the north.

The following map shows the places covered in the rest of the post (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Sans Walk

Sans Walk is the nearly horizontal street in the centre of the map. I did walk the rest of the streets around Sans Walk, but this post was getting rather long with just the stops shown.

I started in Clerkenwell Close, opposite the Horse Shoe pub, a very traditional pub that probably dates back to the 18th century. The earliest written records I could find date to 1824 when a newspaper report referred to an inquest into a suicide which was held in the Horse Shoe.

Sans Walk

This area of Clerkenwell is full of narrow streets. Some new buildings intrude, but many 18th and 19th century buildings survive, along with warehouses and factories from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Looking east along Clerkenwell Close:

Sans Walk

Clerkenwell Close is a strange street as it consists of a number of branches. Starting at Clerkenwell Green, it runs north-west, up to Pear Tree Court and the Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate, with the branch I am walking along turning off and running up to Bowling Green Lane and Corporation Row. At one point the street runs parallel to a pedestrian alley, both called Clerkenwell Close, and indicative of how the area has developed as large warehouses replaced earlier streets, alley and buildings.

Sans Walk

New buildings had been added, but they are generally at the same height as the existing buildings, so despite the architectural and material changes, they blend in. Providing they are in keeping with the scale of the area, and there is a justification to replace rather than restore the  original building, it is good to have new buildings. The streets in the area have buildings from the last few centuries and 21st century additions are part of the continuous development of London.

Sans Walk

The above building was built on the corner of the playground of a Victorian school. The curving wall at street level retains a plaque recording the gift of Sir Robert Wood to the parish in 1844. I suspect this refers to the land:

Sans Walk

We are still in Clerkenwell Close, and the following building tells of the late 19th century expansion of London schools and the London School Board.

Sans Walk

The London School Board was responsible for the development of many of the large, brick, late 19th century schools that can still be found across London. As well as their construction, the London School Board was also responsible for their operation, and the supply of all the goods and materials needed to fit out, and keep a school running.

The Board consolidated the process of standardisation and supply, and one of the methods used was large central warehouses. The buildings in Clerkenwell Close were built between 1895 and 1897 as warehouses for school furniture, stationery and needlework supplies.

The growth in the volume of space needed grew in the early 20th century, and in 1920 an extra floor was added to the top of the Stationery and Needlework warehouse on the right of the above photo, and this addition is still visible in the change of brick colour from red/orange to  a brown brick for the 20th century addition of the top floor.

In the above photo, the furniture store was on the left, and the Stationery and Needlework departments were on the right, and these functions are still recorded in stone, above the doors.

Sans Walk

The initials at the top are those of the London School Board.

One of the schools that the warehouse would have supplied is directly opposite:

Sans Walk

The school was the Hugh Myddelton School, built by the London School Board in 1893 and with the distinction of being the only London School Board school opened by a member of the Royal family after it was opened by the Prince of Wales in December 1893.

Such was the importance of the visit of the Prince of Wales that the London School Board allocated £100 towards preparations for the visit, which caused some consternation as the money was thought better spent on education.

In his opening speech, the Prince of Wales said that the London School Board had contributed to a “marked advance in education, diminution in crime and an undoubted increase in general intelligence”.

Lesson in the Hugh Myddleton School in 1906:

 

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0208_3943

Drill in the open area outside the school, also 1906:

Sans Walk

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0208_68_4984

When opened, the school was the largest and most expensive built by the London School Board. The school had a number of special departments, including the Hugh Myddleton School for the Deaf. The site on which the school stands has an unusual history.

From 1845, the space occupied by the school had been the site of the Middlesex House of Detention, built as a short stay prison due to overcrowding in other prisons, the Middlesex House of Detention was demolished in 1886.

Some of the reception cells of the prison were in the basement, and these survived the demolition of the main building and were incorporated in the basement of the Hugh Myddelton School, and are presumably still there.

The school closed in 1971, was a Further Education College for the next couple of decades before being sold for development into flats and offices in 1999.

The site of the school, when occupied by the Middlesex House of Detention was the site of a bomb explosion in December 1867 reported extensively as the Fenian Outrage in the newspapers of the time.

This took place at the perimeter wall of the prison which ran along the northern edge of the site, in Corporation Street:

Sans Walk

The Fenians was another name for the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an organisation formed in the 1850s to fight for an independent, democratic Ireland.

The bomb was an attempt to free Ricard O’Sullivan Burke and Joseph Casey who had been arrested earlier regarding Burke’s attempts to purchase arms and ammunition in Birmingham, and a previous attempt to free a prisoner in transit, when a guard had been killed.

The view along Corporation Row in the immediate aftermath of the explosion:

Sans Walk

The Illustrated London News carried the following report of the explosion:

“The whole neighbourhood of Clerkenwell was startled at a quarter to four on Friday afternoon by an explosion, which resembled an earthquake. The houses were shaken violently, the windows in many cases were broken, and in some instances persons were thrown to the ground by the violence of the concussion. The scene of the explosion proved to be the wall of the House of Detention, opposite Corporation-row, some sixty feet of which were knocked down, and it was not long before the discovery was made that numerous persons were seriously, and some fatally injured, and that the calamity had been wilfully caused. It was at once attributed to the Fenians, the motive alleged being a desire to rescue Burke and Casey, who are confined in the prison, and facts which have since come to light show that this theory is the correct one.

The clearest account of what actually took place is given by a boy about thirteen years of age, named John Abbott, who is now in St Batholomew’s Hospital, happily not very much hurt.

This youth who lived in Corporation-row, says that at about a quarter to four o’clock he was standing at Mr Young’s door, No 5, when he saw a large barrel close to the wall of the prison, and a man leave the barrel and cross the road. 

Shortly afterwards the man returned with a long squib in each hand. One of these he gave to some boys who were playing in the street, and the other he thrust into the barrel. One of the boys was smoking and he handed the man a light, which the man applied to the squib. The man stayed a short time until he saw the squib began to burn, and then he ran away. A policeman ran after him, and when the policeman arrived opposite No 5, the thing went off.

The boy saw no more after that, as he himself was covered in bricks and mortar. The man, he says, was dressed something like a gentleman. He had on a brown overcoat and black hat, and had light hair and whiskers. He should know him again if he saw him. 

There was a white cloth over the barrel, which was black, and when the man returned with the squib he partly uncovered the barrel, but did not wholly remove the cloth. There were several men and women in the street at the time, and children playing. Three little boys were standing near the barrel at the time. Some of the people ran after the man who lighted the squib.

The effects of the explosion were soon visible in all directions. The windows of the prison itself, of coarse glass more than a quarter of an inch thick, were to a large extent broken, and the side of the building immediately facing the outer wall in which the breach was made, and about 150 feet from it, bears the marks of the bricks which were hurled against it by the explosion. The wall surrounding the prison is about 25 feet high, 2 feet 3 inches thick at the bottom, and about 14 inches thick at the top.

As to the number of persons injured it was impossible for some hours to learn anything satisfactory. It was found, however, that something like fifty at least had been hurt, and that two or three were killed. Thirty six of the sufferers were removed to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where three died in the course of the evening, and six to the Royal Free Hospital in Gray’s Inn Road. Of the wounded some were mere infants, and the husband of a women, who has since died of injuries she sustained, lies in St Bartholomew’s; shockingly bruised and prostrated. Others are missing”.

In the following days, 12 were confirmed to have died in the explosion, with very many injuries.

A number of Fenian sympathisers were arrested, but after trial only one, Michael Barrett, was found guilty, and was sentenced to death. Barrett was the last person to be publically hung outside Newgate Prison.

The scene in Corporation Row after the explosion. A temporary wall has been erected to plug the gap caused by the explosion, and the walls of the opposite houses are being held up with timber supports.

Sans Walk

On a quiet autumn day in 2020 it is hard to imagine the explosion and devastation in Corporation Row.

As well as the Hugh Myddleton School built on the site of the prison, there is another closed school near by. Parts of the wall surrounding the playground and one of the entrances for infants can be seen in front of the recent building that now occupies part of the playground space.

Sans Walk

This is Bowling Green Lane School, built in 1874:

Sans Walk

Another London Board School, part of the site was originally a parish cemetery, along with housing and a tavern.

When the Hugh Myddleton School opened, Bowling Green Lane School became the junior school for the Hugh Myddleton.

Sans Walk

Having built and run many schools in the later part of the 19th century, the London School Board would become part of the London County Council when the authority took over responsibilities for education across London.

A rather nice London County Council coat of arms can still be seen on the side of the school facing the street.

Sans Walk

Bowling Green Lane school closed in 1970, but continued to provide additional space for Islington Green Secondary School until 1982 when it was converted into a range of business spaces, and today, a sign adjacent to the Girls and Infants entrance confirms that Zaha Hadid Architects now occupy the old school.

Sans Walk

The name of the school is after Bowling Green Lane, the street that runs in front of the school. This is both an old street and name and is named after the Bowling Greens that once occupied the land to the north of the street as shown in this extract from Ogilby and Morgan’s map of London published in 1677:

Sans Walk

For many years, Bowling Green Lane and Corporation Row were the northern edge of this part of London, with open space on the northern side of the streets.

The following map extract is from a map produced in 1755 for Stowe’s survey of London. The orientation is rather strange as north is to the left, east is at the top of the map.

Sans Walk

The built areas of Clerkenwell are to the right (south) and open space to the left (north) until we come to the New River Head.

Hugh Myddleton was the driving force behind the construction of the New River and round pond at New River Head, and the large new London School Board school was named after him.

Sadler’s Wells were just north of New River Head and the open space between Sadler’s Wells and Clerkenwell was often a dangerous place for those returning in the dark from entertainments – see my post on Sadler’s Wells.

I now reached Sans Walk, the street that was apparently the centre for the three photos.

Sans Walk appears to have been in existence at the time of the Middlesex House of Detention, but seems to have gone by the name of Short’s Buildings – the name of a terrace of buildings on the southern edge of the street.

The name Sans Walk seems to have come into use by 1893 and the name comes from Edward Sans, the oldest member of the parish vestry at the time.

In the western side of Sans Walk, there are new buildings on the southern edge and the old Hugh Myddleton School on the northern edge of the street:

Sans Walk

Ornate, carved name of the school, high up on the wall to the left of the building.

Sans Walk

The initials of the London School Board are also prominently displayed on the right of the school building:

Sans Walk

The eastern stretch of Sans Walk – I could not match any of the buildings in the street with those shown in my father’s photos.

Sans Walk

On the side wall of the house at the eastern end of Sans Walk is this plaque making clear that the entire wall is the property of the County of Middlesex. No idea if that applies to the rest of the house behind the wall, or just the wall.

Sans Walk

Looking down Sans Walk from the east.

Sans Walk

The building on the left does look like a restored version of one of the terrace of houses in the first photo, however the location is completely wrong. the house above is only a single house on the end of a very different terrace, and there is a road passing immediately in front of the house, with Sans Walk on the right.

At the end of Sans Walk is Woodbridge Street. I could not find any houses that matched the photos.

Sans Walk

Running along the opposite side of the houses to Woodbridge Street is Sekforde Street, lined with early terrace houses, but again nothing that matched my father’s photos.

Sans Walk

Half way along the street is an interesting building. painted white, that stands out from the terrace of houses on either side.

This is the former head office of the Finsbury Bank for Savings.

Sans Walk

The Finsbury Bank for Savings opened in August 1816 at St. John’s Square, Clerkenwell Green. Formed to provide a service for small traders, labourers etc.

The bank moved premises to the building in Sekforde Street shown in the photo above in April 1841 after being built for the bank during the previous year.

Although the bank was intended for customers with limited savings, it was used by many more affluent customers, including the author Charles Dickens.

The Finsbury Bank for Savings went through a series of mergers, eventually becoming part of TSB, which in turn was taken over by Lloyds Bank.

I failed in the aim of the walk, to find the locations of my father’s photos around Sans Walk, although one of the aims of searching for these locations is to explore the surrounding area, and there was plenty to be found around Sans Walk.

The schools and warehouses of the London School Board, a 19th century bomb planted by the Fenians, the northward limit of Clerkenwell in the 18th century and streets that record lost bowling greens and one of London’s early saving banks – all within a short walk.

London is always best explored on foot and almost every street tells a story.

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George Inn, Borough High Street, Southwark

The George Inn, along Borough High Street, Southwark is the only remaining galleried coaching inn in London of the many that once serviced the numerous coaches that connected the city with the rest of the country.

The George remains thanks to the London and North Eastern Railway. Although they did demolish large parts of the original buildings leaving only one side of the complex, they sold to the National Trust in 1937, who continue to own the property with it currently being leased to the pub chain and brewer, Greene King.

Back in 1977, I took the following photograph of the George with the main building and galleried upper floors.

George Inn

There was something being filmed at the time of my visit, as the lights facing into the building demonstrate – cannot remember what it was – a late 1970s period drama.

On a rather overcast September day, I went back to Borough High Street to photograph the George Inn.

George Inn

The George still has the narrow entrance from Borough High Street. These are days of COVID precautions and the sign indicated a separate side for entrance and exit.

George Inn

I did not want to challenge the restrictions in place, so did not walk into the yard just to take photos. I was short of time, having to be in Clerkenwell that afternoon so could not stop for a drink. The George is on the list for a return visit, and some better photos.

George Inn

The George looks much the same as in my 1977 photo, however the building at the end of the yard in 1977 has been demolished and replaced.

The George is a very old Inn, dating back to at least the 16th century. It was mentioned by Stowe in 1598 as one of the “fair inns” of London.

It was originally called the St. George, but because of changes in sentiment towards religious iconography, Popery and saints, the inn became the George in the mid 16th century.

In 1622 the inn is described as being built of “brick and timber”. In 1670 a Mark and Mary Wayland were running the George for an annual rent of £150. That year the pub was damaged by fire. Wayland rebuilt and had his rent reduced to £80 and a sugar loaf.

A much larger fire in 1676 that burnt through much of the surrounding area, totally destroyed the George, but again it was rebuilt by the tenant who had the rent further reduced to £50 and a sugar loaf, along with an extension of the lease.

In 1825, the George is recorded as being “a good commercial inn in the Boro High Street; well known, whence several coaches and many wagons depart laden with the merchandise of the metropolis, in return for which they bring back from various parts of Kent, that staple article of the country, the hop, to which we are indebted for the good quality of the London porter”.

In 1855, a description of the stables area of the inn included “a round room for the ostlers in the days of pack-horses, and a stable below ground with steps leading down to it”.

For many years, the George was owned by the trustees of Guy’s Hospital, which was on the eastern boundary of the original George Inn – the building we see today is a small part of the original inn and the associated buildings to support the coaching business.

In 1874, St Guy’s Hospital sold the George Inn to the Great Northern Railway. The coming of the railways had seen a rapid decline in travel by horse and coach, so the sale of the inn to the GNR, who used the site as a receiving station for goods to be transported on their rail network, was in many ways a logical continuation of the main transport function of the inn.

The following photo shows the courtyard of the George, looking towards Borough High Street, with a sign above the entrance to the offices of the Great Northern Railway:

George Inn

The location of the George Inn was key to the success of the inn as a coaching inn, as one of many inns located in courtyards along the main road that led south from London Bridge.

The following map extract is from a map of the Parish of St. Saviours Southwark by Richard Blome (late 17th century but published by John Stow in 1720).

It shows the road leading from London Bridge at the top of the map, down to the Marshalsea Prison at the bottom of the map. This road had long been the only southern route out of the City of London.

George Inn

To the right of the road are numerous alleys and courts. Many of these were inns such as the Spur Inn, Queen’s Head Inn, Talbot Inn, White Heart Inn, King’s Head Inn, Black Swan Inn, Ship Inn and Bores Head Inn. Southwark really did have a lot of Inns.

At number 35, with the red circle is the George Inn. The narrow access from the street leads on to a large courtyard.

There were a number of reasons for the high number of inns. The road was originally the only road from the City of London to the southern counties of England. The area was outside the control of the City of London, there was more land available and rents were cheaper than on the other side of London Bridge.

Catching a coach from one of the Inns in Southwark was almost the equivalent of walking across London Bridge today and catching a train at London Bridge Station.

Coaches from the Southwark Inns served numerous destinations in the counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire and in 1809, W.S. Scholefield who was running the George at the time, published a list of the destinations from the inn, and their frequency:

George Inn

The table demonstrates just how busy the George Inn must have been. Numerous destinations, with some having four coaches a day. Horses being stabled at the George, passengers staying in the rooms of the George before an onward journey, luggage and other goods for onward transport across London.

The table includes coaches, which were mainly for passenger transport, and also wagons, which were used for the transport of goods, so the George was also the hub for a transport network for products, raw materials and personal / household goods that needed to be sent to destinations from Kent to Hampshire, and returning goods for sale in the City.

I plotted the coach network onto a map to give a graphical view of the geographic spread and number of destinations (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

George Inn

The majority of destinations are in the county of Kent, with some in Sussex. There is a  significant gap between the main Kent services and the five destinations to the west of the map, with no services to towns such as Edenbridge, East Grinstead, Uckfield and Lewes.

It may have been that there was no market for these destinations, or that they were served by coaches from other Southwark based coaching inns. I did consider trying to put together a map showing the destinations from the different inns, where these are known, colour coding based on the Southwark inn. An 18th century / early 19th century equivalent of a 21st century rail network map, but as usual have the idea but not the time.

What the list of destinations does not show is whether each was a single route with multiple stops, or whether these were individual destinations, or a mix of both. Or, whether some of these destinations were reached through a change in coach.

There is a brilliant book called “Paterson’s Roads – An Entirely Original and Accurate Description of all the Direct and Principal Cross Roads in England and Wales”.

I have the 1826 edition, and the book is basically an early 19th century SatNav, It provides detailed routes to get from Town A to Town B, listing all the intermediate towns, turnpikes, and where other destinations could be reached through turning off from the main route. The routes are annotated with descriptions of the towns and villages along the route, milestones, turnpikes and important buildings.

One of the routes is from London (the Surrey side of London Bridge) to Dover. An important destination, as from Dover boats provided the shortest crossing of the channel over to continental Europe. As Dover is one of the destinations from the George, I plotted the route from 1826 as the red line on the following map:

George Inn

The route is the most direct route, but with a short diversion for a stop at Gravesend – a long route in a horse drawn coach on 18th / early 19th century roads.

Paterson’s Roads describes Gravesend as “the first port in the Thames, and by a grant of Richard II, enjoys the privilege of conveying passengers to and from London; the vessels depart from Billingsgate every day at high water, on the ringing of a bell, and from Gravesend every flood tide. All outward bound vessels are obliged to bring-to here, till they have been examined by the proper officers, and receive their clearances; here also all foreigners are detained on arriving from abroad; till they have obtained permission from the Secretary of State’s office to proceed, and all foreigners departing must receive their clearance  from the Aliens office here”.

Paterson’s Roads also provides points where there is a route to a secondary destination, shown as the blue lines on the map. So a stop at Chatham provides a route south to Maidstone, a stop at Faversham provides a route to Ashford, and a stop at Canterbury provides a route north to Whitstable.

The infrastructure needed to support the number of coaches and wagons departing from and arriving at the George Inn was significant and originally the Inn was much larger than we see today.

The coming of the railways destroyed the coach and wagon business and Inns such as the George lost much of their business over a relatively short period of time.

Buildings and land that were originally part of the George were sold, and part was demolished or converted by the Great Northern Railway to be used as storage space.

The Great Northern Railway became the London and North Eastern Railway, and in 1937, the LNER sold the George to the National Trust, who still own the building. As part of the sale, the LNER produced a plan created in 1847 when the previous owner, Guy’s Hospital, had sold to the Great Northern Railway.

This plan provides a detailed view of the original scale of the George, not just the yard in front of the current pub, but extending much further back towards Guy’s Hospital, where there were a large number of stables for the horses that once pulled the coaches and wagons across the counties south of London:

George Inn

The following photo, dated to the 1880s shows the yard outside the current pub. The archway at the end of the yard is that shown in the plan above which leads into the stable yard and extensive stabling.

George Inn

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0970_X72_310

Newspaper records mainly reference the George Inn for coaching services rather than the alcoholic problems that a 18th / 19th century inn would often have, for example, even in 1812 it was not a good idea to fraudulently claim expenses:

“28th October 1812 – MIDDLESEX SESSIONS. Thomas Pearson, lately employed as office keeper in the office of his Majesty’s Quarter-Master-General, stood indicted for fraudulently altering, in a bill from the coach-office of the George Inn, Southwark, the sum of 3s 1d to 13s 1d for the carriage and porterage of a parcel from Hythe; and thereby defrauding his Majesty”.

There were adverts of coach services from the George, and the mention of reduced fares probably indicates the competitive nature of coach services. From the Maidstone Advertiser on the 20th September 1842:

Reduced Fares. Direct to London in three and a half hours by the favorite 4-horse coach, from the Swan Inn, Maidstone, every afternoon at 4 o’clock. Returning from the Ship, Charing Cross, Belle Sauvage, Ludgate Hill; Bull and Mouth, St Martin’s Le Grand; Blossoms Inn, Lawrence-lane; every morning at nine o’clock; and the George Inn, Borough, at half past nine, Fares 10 Shillings Inside. 6 Shillings Outside”.

On the same page as the above advert, is another that tells of the coming demise of the horse drawn coach services, and is probably why the above advert was advertising reduced fares:

“South-Eastern Railway Booking Office. Swan-Inn, High-street, Maidstone.

To and from London in three and a quarter hours!

Superior appointed coaches start punctually at the stated times from the above office to the station Paddock Wood, passing through Testom, Wateringbury and Peckham. Fares 2 Shillings Inside, 1 Shilling Outside”.

The above advert is interesting as it shows the hybrid nature of early train services and how the railway companies used the coach services they wanted to replace as feeder services to their stations.

The South Eastern Railway had reached Paddock Wood in Kent in May 1842, but would not reach Maidstone until 1874, so the South Eastern Railway ran coach services to take customers from nearby towns such as Maidstone to the nearest station.  A clever idea as it not only grew traffic on the new rail network, but also encouraged those who had to use a feeder service to support the extension of the rail network to their own town.

The railways would quickly kill off the horse and coach services, and with them the need for coaching inns, and in the latter half of the 19th century London lost nearly all the coaching inns, with the exception of the George Inn. Even the nearby Tabard Inn, which seems to have been older than the George was demolished in 1873.

By 1899, the importance of the George was being recognised. From the 4th September 1899:

“I am glad to observe that London is not to be deprived of the old George Inn at Southwark – the last of the picturesque galleried hostelries of London. It was reported in one quarter that this ancient inn was to come down; in another, that it was to be turned into a common-place gin palace. 

It was frequently visited by the sixth Lord Digby, a benevolent member of the Peerage, who midway in the eighteenth century, used to disguise himself in a shabby old blue dress and visit the old Marshalsea prison, and free a number of prisoners by paying their debts in full. He did this twice a year, at Christmas and Easter, and then took them to the George, celebrating the occasion by entertaining the liberated prisoners to a repast”.

An earlier story about Lord Digby tells of thirty people he had released from the Marshalsea prison, sitting at dinner at the George Inn.

Late 19th century view of the George:

George Inn

The George Inn is one of the many London locations that claim an association with the author Charles Dickens, although with the George it is almost certainly true that he did visit the inn and it does get a brief mention in Little Dorrit.

There are many original features inside the pub, dating back to the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries, and there is possible reuse of medieval beams and stone.

The George Inn is still owned by the National Trust, is Grade I listed and the inn is currently run by Greene King.

The George was a key location for transport to Kent, and there are plenty of other reminders in this area of Southwark of how Kent produce was taken to, traded and sold in Borough.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Borough Market and the Hop Exchange, and a short distance in Borough High Street from the George is this facade:

George Inn

WH and H Le May were William Henry and his brother Herbert. Born in Gun Lane, Limehouse, they went on to establish a very successful hop trading business based on Borough High Street.

Their trade extended to all the hop growing areas of the country, not just Kent, but counties such as Herefordshire where newspapers had adverts for the business encouraging growers to consign their hops to WH and H Le May, to be “sold in London, the best market for hops”.

Advertising included pricing updates and in 1911 they reported that “the demand for all types of hops continues, and prices have again advanced on all the hop markets of the world”.

George Inn

The business may be long gone, but the ornate facade provides a reminder of this area of Southwark’s connection with the trade of agricultural produce from Kent, southern England and further afield.

One of the books I have used to research this post is “The Old Inns of Southwark and their Associations”, by William Rendle and Philip Norman. The book was published in 1888.

Old books help as they provide information closer to the time they are recording. Some care must be taken to double check, but they are a good source of information.

These books also have their own history as they pass from owner to owner over the years, accumulating a memory of their time with some of the owners of the book.

In the Old Inns of Southwark, on the rear of the title page, I found the following photo glued onto the page.

George Inn

I have no idea who A.H, Lucas was, perhaps the owner of the book in December 1959 when the photo was taken.

I was considering adding my 1977 photo, but I did not own the book at the time, so when it is possible to get back to the George, I will take another photo and add to the book.

Another book which takes this to a more extreme level, with additions that tell of the coaching history of Chatham is “The Medway River and Valley” by William Coles Finch, an author and resident engineer of the Chatham and District Water Company. The book was published in 1929 and is a fascinating history of the River Medway, and the towns along the Medway.

The book was purchased when published by a Mr A.C. Holliday, a local teacher.

In 1934 A.C. Holliday had written to William Coles Finch, apparently praising his books as Coles Finch replied, and A.C. Holliday glued the reply into the book:

George Inn

A.C. Holliday also glued into the book, on every empty page at the start and end of the book, newspaper cuttings on the history of Chatham.

This cutting tells of the first train to arrive in Chatham, and also recalls the state of the roads which the old horse drawn coaches would have used to reach Chatham from London from inns such as the George Inn, with dust in dry weather and mud in winter:

George Inn

The article includes mention of the Vans that once ran to London, loaded with goods. The sense of London as being a distant place of mystery and adventure, and of the problems that a traveler would encounter with thieves on Shooters Hill:

George Inn

William Coles Finch died in 1945, and an obituary is glued in the book:

George Inn

William Coles Finch wife, Emily wrote to A.C. Holliday regarding the article, and the letter is also glued into the book:

George Inn

There is no free space in the book to add any further contributions, however I printed one of my photos of the London Stone at Yantlet Creek to use as a book mark, and have this in the book as my addition to its history.

I have always used the latest London Underground folded maps, exhibition or concert tickets, or photos as bookmarks and leave these in the book when finished – my contribution to their history.

The George is now much smaller than the original establishment, when horses needed to be stabled and coaches and wagons set out for the southern counties, but it still shows what an inn would have looked like when horse drawn vehicles were the main mode of transport.

As the George Inn is owned by the National Trust (a brilliant decision by the LNER), the long term future looks assured, and it is the perfect place to stop for a drink and consider the many thousands of travelers who must have departed or arrived here, each on their own special journey through, what was described in Coles Finch’s book as “London, being a distant place of mystery and adventure”.

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Seven Dials and Monmouth Street

The following photo shows a brick terrace house, advertising a saddler and harness maker, but in a rather poor condition. We are in Monmouth Street in Seven Dials and the photo was taken by my father in 1984.

Seven Dials

Thirty six years later and the building is in a far better condition, with the advertising signage restored.

Seven Dials

I was going to try and be clever and title the post “Seven things about Seven Dials”, but as I dug into the history of the area there are far more than just seven things of interest.

The sign is advertising the business of B. Flegg, a Saddler and Harness Maker, established in 1847.

B. Flegg was a William Flegg and the building in Monmouth Street was not his only premises. I suspect this may have been his central London sales room, where he would sell everything needed for the thousands of horses that kept London moving in the 19th century.

William Flegg’s main location seems to have been on the Old Kent Road in south London where he occupied numbers 585, 586 and 592. Adverts in the South London Chronicle stated that he had “Stable utensils of every description. Whips and all kinds of horse clothing always on hand. A waggonette to let, to hold four or six persons”.

It could be that saddler and harness maker was a family trade and that the family were from south London. As well as William Flegg there was an H. Flegg, also a saddler and harness maker, who had premises at 7 Deptford Bridge, but had to move to 2 Church Street, Deptford in 1880 due to rebuilding of the bridge over the Deptford Creek.

Flegg is not that common a name so I suspect that H. and William Flegg were related.

The final references to the name Flegg as a saddler are in 1905, when a George Flegg, aged 40 and a saddler of 654 Woolwich Road, Charlton was found drunk in Woolwich Road and fined two shilling and six pence, or three days if he did not pay the fine.

Monmouth Street is the street leading off to the south from the central Seven Dials junction, just to the east of Charing Cross Road and south of Shaftesbury Avenue. The seven streets radiating out from the central junction form a distinctive pattern on the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Seven Dials

The layout of the streets around Seven Dials has not changed for a very long time. The 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the same distinctive layout (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’):

Seven Dials

Going back to a 1755 map of the Parish of St Giles’s in the Fields, and the same distinctive layout is in the lower left corner:

Seven Dials

Detail of Seven Dials from the above map:

Seven Dials

Comparison of the maps tells us a number of things about Seven Dials. Firstly the streets radiating out from the central junction have changed names over the years:

Seven Dials

In 1755 the street name stayed the same as the street crossed the central junction, however by 1895 the names had been changed slightly to give each branch a distinctive name, so St. Andrew’s Street became Little and Great St. Andrew Street.

By 2020, the 1755 approach of extending the same street name across the junction had been put back in place, and a new set of names given.

When William Flegg was in Monmouth Street, he would have known the street as Little St. Andrew Street.

The maps also tell us something about the pillar in the centre of the junction. The 1755 map shows the pillar, however by 1895 the pillar had gone, and there was a Urinal in the junction. By 2020 the pillar was back in place.

I will come on to this later, however for now, lets take a walk along the southern section of Monmouth Street.

The terrace of houses with William Flegg’s premises in the centre:

Seven Dials

Looking up Monmouth Street from the southern end of the street:

Seven Dials

Buildings along the western side of Monmouth Street:

Seven Dials

The rather magnificent Two Brewers pub, Monmouth Street:

Seven Dials

The streets around Seven Dials are now full of clothing and jewelry shops, restaurants and cafes. Mainly small, one off shops rather than the large chain shops that can be found across much of London.

We can also walk through the street in 1895 and look at the businesses that occupied the houses by using the 1895 Post Office Directory.

Seven Dials

We can see William Flegg occupying numbers 16, 17 and 18, so not just the single house with the sign on the wall. The numbers are different to today’s numbering as this was when this branch of Monmouth Street was Little St. Andrew Street.

The directory has a few abbreviations of which I have not yet found the meaning such as the “size ma” for George Oliver at number 11 and “rms” for John Thomas Blake at number 20.

This was a street of small manufacturers and traders, trading in everything from bread and meat to birds and fishing rods.

At the top of the southern branch of Monmouth Street is the Seven Dials junction, where the seven streets come together:

Seven Dials

The streets running around the central Seven Dials junction were built during the later part of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Thomas Neale obtained the lease for the land in 1693. Prior to this, the area was already built-up, but with Cock and Pye Fields occupying the space where part of Earlham and Monmouth Streets now run.

In the following extract from William Morgan’s 1682 map of the city of London, I have marked the location of the central Seven Dials junction with a red circle.

Seven Dials

There is only a single street that remains to this day. White Lion Street can be seen running through the red circle. This would stay White Lion Street when the central junction and seven streets where completed. Today White Lion Street is Mercer Street.

Note also that the street that would become Shaftesbury Avenue was Monmoth Street in 1682.

The central feature of the junction of the seven streets in Thomas Neale ‘s plans was a pillar.

The British Museum has a copy of the original drawing of the pillar designed by Edward Pierce (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Seven Dials

The text at the bottom of the drawing states “A Stone Pillar with Sun Dyals to which are directed 7 streets in St Giles’s Parish commonly called the Seven Dyals, formerly a Laystall”.

The word Laystall can refer to a place where rubbish or dung is deposited. It can also refer to a place where cattle are kept. This might be related to the location of the sun dial being at the entrance to Cock and Pye Fields in the 1682 Morgan map.

The 1895 Ordnanace Survey map shows the central junction without the pillar. It had been removed over 100 years earlier as it had become the focal point for so called undesirables and in 1773 the Paving Commissioners ordered the removal to prevent this nuisance.

The pillar eventually turned up in Weybridge, where the pillar, without sun dials, can be seen today at the junction of Monument Hill and Monument Green.

By the 1980s, the majority of Seven Dials was derelict, and there were plans for the demolition of the majority of buildings in the area. Restoration plans were proposed by the Seven Dials Monument Charity and fortunately this approach was supported, otherwise we would see a very different Seven Dials today.

There were efforts to bring the original pillar back from Weybridge, however the local council refused.

Architect A.D.Mason designed a new pillar based on the original design by Edward Pierce, which included making measurements of the original pillar in Weybridge. The new pillar and sun dials were unveiled on the 29th of June, 1989.

The new pillar would become the focal point for the restoration work of the streets surrounding the pillar, and the work has been a considerable success with the area packed with people in more normal times.

Looking down the southern branch of Monmouth Street from the central junction:

Seven Dials

The Crown pub facing the central junction, between the northern branch of Monmouth Street and Short’s Gardens.

Seven Dials

A plaque on the pub shows how the solar time shown by the pillar can be converted to Greenwich Mean Time:

Seven Dials

The new central pillar:

Seven Dials

The Cambridge Theatre (opened on the 4th September 1930), between Earlham and Mercer Streets:

Seven Dials

The Crown pub, then Short’s Gardens, then Earlham Street:

Seven Dials

During the first decades of the 1700s, the new area of Seven Dials quickly become a reference point for news reports and a sample of reports between the years 1723 and 1749 tells us much about life in these brand new streets:

21st March 1723: There is just finished by Mr John Noble, living near Seven Dials, an Organ, which by using bellows only, without the help of an Organist, sounds several Tunes to Perfection.

6th February 1725: One Murphy, a Centinel in the 2nd Regiment of Guards, was on Saturday last seized near the Seven Dials, on Suspicion of being concerned in the robbing of the Chester Mail. One of the Chester Bags (out of which letters were stolen) having been found near a hedge, was brought to the General Post-Office yesterday morning.

1st November 1729: Late last night one Welch, who buys and sells old Cloths, was set upon by two Street-Robbers at the Corner of St Andrew’s-Street, near the Seven Dials, who took from him in Cloths and Money to the value of seven pounds and upwards.

There was a pillory at the Seven Dials in the early decades of the 18th century, and the risks of being sentenced to the Pillory can be seen from the following newspaper report:

22nd June 1732: Last night, the Coroner’s Inquest upon the body of John Waller, who stood in the Pillory at the Seven Dials in the Parish of St. Giles’s in the Fields last Tuesday, and brought in the Verdict wilful murder with unlawful weapons.

Later in 1732, the person who had killed John Waller was included in a list of those sentenced to death, but the report does not provide any background as to why he was murdered:

14th September 1732: Richard Griffith, for being concerned in the Death of Waller who was killed in the Pillory at Seven Dials.

24th November 1733: Last Saturday Mr Rambert, a Coal Merchant in Tower Street, near the Seven Dials, received an Incendiary Letter threatening to set his House on Fire, and kill him, if he did not leave twelve Guinieas in a certain place mentioned in the letter, which was written in French. That night Mr Rambert left twelve Half-pence in the Place, and at about One in the morning, some Neighbours who watched to see the consequence, observed four fellows pass by, when one of them took up the half pence and walked off with the imaginary prize. We hear nothing however of their being pursued.

Strangely, 16 years later, there is a report of someone being arrested for writing incendiary letters:

24th November 1749: On Saturday night, one Franks, a shoemaker, was taken at a house near Seven Dials, on the Oaths of his Accomplices, for writing Incendiary Letters to several persons, in order to extort Money thereby.

People living in the streets leading off from the Seven Dials pillar could be very wealthy:

15th October 1741: On Saturday last died at his House in Earl-street, near the Seven Dials, Mr. Philips, a Distiller, said to have died worth 30,000 pounds, and on Thursday Morning his Corpse was carried out of Town, in order to be interred near his deceased relations, about three miles from Nottingham.

29th November 1744: The same day, Hannah Moses, otherwise Samuel, the Widow of one of the three Jews who were hanged about three sessions ago, was committed by the same Gentleman to New-prison, and her accomplice, Benjamin David Woolf, to Newgate, for stealing out of the shop of Mr John Barber, a Silversmith, at the Seven Dials, an Ingot of Silver.

19th May 1749: A few days since a Sailor went into a Chandler’s Shop in Earl-street, near the Seven Dials, to ask for a Lodging; but the man telling him there was none to let, he asked for a Halfpenny-worth of Tobacco, which as the Shop-keeper was serving, he drew his Hanger, cut him down behind the Counter, and made off; and yesterday the unfortunate man died of the wounds he received.

25th August 1749: Two Sawyers belonging to Mr Neale’s Yard in King’s-Street, Seven Dials, quarreled and fought, and one of them, by a fall, fractured his skull and died immediately, and the other being carried before a Magistrate, was by him committed o New-prison, Clerkenwell.

By the late 19th century, many of the streets around Seven Dials were crowded, with many poor occupants. Gustave Dore drew the entrance to Monmouth Street from Seven Dials. People crowd the street, shops and basements with shoes for sale line the side of the street and children play in street, blocking the path of a carriage (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Seven Dials

George Cruikshank had earlier produced a drawing around 1836 as an illustration to Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz. The drawing shows two women being urged to fight in front of a gin palace in Seven Dials (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Seven Dials

Despite the impression created by Gustave Dore, Charles Booth’s poverty map of London, between 1898 and 1899 shows most of the streets around Seven Dials as “Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings”, although the dark blue along Queen Street is classed as “Very poor, casual. Chronic want”.

Seven Dials

The following photo from the 1897 publication “The Queen’s London” shows a street leading up to the Seven Dials junction. The photo gives a different impression of the area to that of Gustave Dore’s drawing.

Seven Dials

By the 1970s, the area was very much in decline. The streets were all open to traffic, there was no central pillar and cars would pass across the central junction between streets. Some of the space in the streets was used for purposes that seem very strange when looking at the area today.

In 1974, a Texaco petrol station occupied the space between Earlham and Monmouth Streets. This is the space to the right of my earlier photo looking down the southern branch of Monmouth Street from the central junction,

Seven Dials

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_152_74_21025

There is much to discover in the streets that lead off from the central junction of Seven Dials. I have only covered the southern branch of Monmouth Street and a general history of area. It would take a very much longer post to cover the whole area.

There are a couple of houses in the southern section of Mercer Street that I want to show. They are a pair of late 17th century terrace houses that date from the original construction of Seven Dials. This is number 27 Mercer Street:

Seven Dials

And number 25. Both are Grade II listed.

Seven Dials

The view looking up Mercer Street towards the pillar from the junction with Shelton Street:

Seven Dials

During the summer and autumn period, many of the streets have been closed, providing more space for pedestrians and the cafes in the area.

Seven Dials is usually very busy. Tourists, visitors to London, those visiting the theatres and restaurants of the West End add to those who live and work in the area.

in the run-up to Christmas, the streets around Seven Dials are crowded, and a couple of years ago I photographed a Saturday evening around Seven Dials. Here are three examples.

Looking up Monmouth Street towards the central junction:

Seven Dials

Around the central pillar:

Seven Dials

Crowds and the Cambridge Theatre:

Seven Dials

Many of the buildings of Seven Dials have been redeveloped, and the original pillar is now to be found in Weybridge, but the general layout is still the same, and some of the original buildings survive.

I suspect that Thomas Neale would be rather pleased that his Seven Dials development is still here 300 years later.

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City of London – October 2020

Back in July, I wrote three posts about a walk through the City of London to photograph the pubs. The majority were closed, and being a weekend, the City was quiet. A couple of Monday’s ago I had to be in Clerkenwell, so as usual, I took the opportunity for a walk, this time through the City.

In decades of walking London, I have never seen the City of London as it is today. Offices empty, shops closed, the streets deserted.

The pandemic will pass, but it will be interesting to see whether the City of London will return to a pre-COVID city, or perhaps changes in working patterns will result in a different city.

Last August, I downloaded data from the Department for Transport which shows the impact on transport systems. I have downloaded the latest data which runs from the 1st March to the 26th October 2020. The data provides usage as percentages of an equivalent day or week.

The following graph shows usage on the London Underground.

City of London

The graph shows that after the initial lock down, there was a gradual increase in use, however the graph is now on a downward trend as a second wave arrives.

Interesting that the peaks are the weekends, so as a percentage of the equivalent week, the reduction is not as bad as weekdays, however they are still very low, with the weekend of the 24th and 25th October coming in at 37% and 41% for the two days.

The Monday I was walking through the City, underground usage was 32% of the equivalent day  pre-COVID.

London bus travel has returned to a slightly higher level, but is still averaging 56% of pre-COVID usage, and the initial growth in use has stalled and possibly reducing as shown in the following graph:

City of London

The drop to zero is the period when Transport for London introduced the middle-door only boarding policy, with no requirement to touch in, so obviously lost any meaningful passenger number data.

I started on the south bank of the river as I had been looking at alleys in Bankside and at 10:20 on a Monday morning, walked across a very quiet Millennium Bridge:

City of London

10:45 – standing on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, looking down Ludgate Hill:

City of London

St Paul’s Cathedral has reopened to visitors and a security tent has been erected on the steps:

City of London

Waiting for the visitors:

City of London

If you want to avoid crowds, now is probably a good time to visit the cathedral, although the Whispering Gallery and the Golden Gallery at the very top are currently closed.

10:50 on a Monday morning and Paternoster Square:

City of London

10:57, and looking down Cheapside from the junction with New Change:

City of London

Many of the City’s streets have been closed to traffic, made into one-way streets, and have additional pedestrian and cycle spaces. Cheapside is now closed as a through road with the exception of cycles.

City of London

11:18, the Bank junction:

City of London

The view looking down Old Broad Street, now a single lane street for one way traffic, with the other lane now allocated for cycle lanes.

City of London

I am unsure of the changes being made to the City’s roads. Cycling is far better than traffic, there is no doubt about that, however ever since I started working in London in 1979, the city has been busy and noisy. Busy pavements and busy roads with red busses, black cabs and general traffic, and it is that which makes a city live. Without people, without busy roads, the city feels very hollowed out.

There is a wealth of data made available online by various Government departments and the Mayor of London. I have shown some of the Department for Transport statistics earlier in the post, and the Mayor of London makes data available on the utilisation of the Santander Cycle Hire Scheme. This covers the whole of the scheme rather than just the City.

I downloaded the spreadsheet and created the following graphs.

The first graph shows the number of bicycle hires each month from the start of 2019 till the end of September 2020.

City of London

Whilst in the summer of 2019, bicycle hires peaked once at just under 1.2 million a month, in 2020, they have been running just under the same number for about 4 months which shows a sustained increase in cycling, rather than just a single peak.

The data also includes the average hire time, and throughout the whole of 2019 and early 2020 this averaged just under 20 minutes, since April of this year average hire times increased significantly, although they now appear to be falling back.

City of London

I could not find any 2020 data on taxi usage in London, but this must also be a trade that is suffering significantly.

The Department for Transport does publish data showing the number of licensed taxis (Black Cabs) and Private Hire Vehicles (Uber etc.) going back to 1965 which makes an interesting study in how this form of transport has changed over the years.

The following graph shows the number of licensed taxis in London from 1965 to the end of 2019 (in thousands):

City of London

The DfT spreadsheet is missing data for some years between 2020 and 2019, but the trend is clear.

There was a continuous rise in the number of licensed taxis from 1965, which flattened off from 2010 and now appears to be decreasing possibly due to the rise of private hire vehicles using apps such as Uber. Plotting the number of private hire vehicles in London on the same graph as licensed taxis shows the impact that this new form of transport must be having (left hand column in thousands):

City of London

Private hire vehicles are the orange dots, and the DfT spreadsheet only has data on these from 2005, but the rapid rise in numbers in the last few years is clear, and there is now over a 4 to 1 ratio of private hire vehicles to licensed taxis.

It will be interesting in the years ahead to watch how road usage in the city changes.

Back to walking the City of London.

Many of the take away food shops were closed. Those that were open were frequently empty:

City of London

11:45 Gresham Street:

City of London

Photography helps to record change, and I have been photographing the closed shops in the City to return to later and see how many have reopened.  It is also important to remember that behind each closed shop, there are multiple jobs and lives that are suffering financial impact.

City of London

12:15 An empty Pret:

City of London

The main visible sign of work in the City of London seems to be road works, clsoing roads, diversions and making space for cycle lanes and pavement widening.

City of London

12:30 The North Wing entrance to the City of London Corporation offices:

City of London

12:42 Empty space between the office blocks

City of London

Looking east along London Wall.

City of London

Looking west along London Wall:

City of London

The majority of the city office blocks were open, but there appeared to be very few people working in them. Most entrance foyers just had reception and security staff pacing up and down, waiting for the visitors that will not be arriving.

City of London

At the start of Aldersgate Street:

City of London

The Old Red Cow – Long Lane. The interior of the pub is a small space and a sign on the window states that the Old Red Cow is now closed “until normality ensues once again”.

City of London

Costa – Long Lane. I suspect that the hi-vis workers from the nearby Crossrail works are helping to keep this coffee shop open.

City of London

Ask for Janice bar and resturant – Long Lane. Closed until “this is all over”.

City of London

15:15 Old Bailey

City of London

Closed shops in Old Bailey. Two of the hardest hit industries – travel and hospitality:

City of London

15:28 City Thameslink Station

City of London

WH Smith store temporarily closed in the station entrance:

City of London

Fleet Street – old Vodafone shop up for sale.

City of London

Fleet Street has many closed take away food shops. Itsu:

City of London

Sainsbury’s Local – Fleet Street, temporarily closed

City of London

A hopefully temporary halt to fresh Mexican food:

City of London

Along with Thai food:

City of London

A number of shops and takeaways have been boarded up, adding to the impression of a City and business model in trouble.

City of London

Photographing the signs that will one day be a distant memory:

City of London

Just outside the border of the City of London, Simmons Bar closed and boarded.

City of London

The City without people is really a collection of buildings without purpose, and this is probably the City of London until next Spring. It will be fascinating to watch how the City develops next.

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Albion Place, Clerkenwell – A Lost Terrace

Walk up St John Street, north of Smithfield, and turn up St John’s Lane towards St John’s Gate, and on the left you will find Albion Place. My father’s 1947 photo of the street shows a pedestrianised street with a row of terrace houses. In the distance the street descends rapidly towards Farringdon Station, the descent of the street indicating that this was once down to the valley of the River Fleet.

Albion Place

Albion Place in 2020:

Albion Place

The name Albion Place was in my father’s notes to the strip of negatives which included this photo. I was concerned whether this was indeed the right location. Apart from the way the street descends, there are no other visual clues. All the buildings in the 1947 photo have since been demolished. Albion Place is no longer pedestrianised, and the street today looks wider than it appeared in 1947.

Albion Place is shown in the lower right of the following map, between St John’s Lane and Britton Street. Benjamin Street then continues on towards Turnmill Street and the tracks of the railway into Farringdon Station (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Albion Place

The main cause of my doubt about the location was the junction with Britton Street. This is on the right, at the end of Albion Place, just before Benjamin Street descends towards Farringdon.

The junction with Britton Street cannot be seen in my father’s photo – indeed the street appears to be a continuous row of buildings.

I have been able to confirm this is Albion Place through a single visual clue, as well as a couple of other pointers.

Firstly, towards the end of Benjamin Street, there is a building that juts out and narrows Benjamin Street towards the junction with Turnmill Street.

The building has a unique outline. Today, a tree has grown up against the building and hides the edge of the wall and roof:

Albion Place

However I can demonstrate this is the same building as one seen at the very end of the 1947 photo.

In the photo below, on the left, is an enlargement from my father’s photo showing the very end of the street. There is a building jutting out and I have outlined in red the shape of the upper wall, up towards the roof.

In the photo on the right, I have marked the same outline of upper wall and roof.

Albion Place

The two buildings both edge out into Benjamin Street, and both appear to have the same upper wall and roof shape. Would be clearer without the tree, but they appear to be the same.

I also checked the 1894 Ordinance Survey map, and in Albion Place, there is a row of terrace houses in exactly the right place (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’):

Albion Place

The OS map also shows Britton Street (then Red Lion Street) and the junction with Albion Place. I have no idea why this does not appear in my father’s 1947 photo, I assume the junction is there – just the perspective of the photo, and the way the buildings line the route of Albion Place and continue straight down to Benjamin Street.

I found one final confirmation of the location. The London Metropolitan Archives, Collage Collection has a single photo of Albion Place, dated 1956 which although photographed in the opposite direction towards St John’s Lane, includes a view of the same terrace.

Albion Place

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01 080 56 4132

The houses look the same, even the house on the left having the two steps to the door, with single steps serving the rest of the houses – exactly the same as in my father’s photo.

In the 9 years between the two photos, Albion Place has lost the rather nice lamp posts. In 1956 a new concrete lamp post is in place.

The following photo is looking up Albion Place from the junction with Britton Street, and shows the same building at the end of the street, on St John’s Lane, as in the Collage photo above.

Albion Place

Albion Place has a long history. The land was originally part of the outer precinct of the Hospitallers’ Priory of St John of Jerusalem, which extended down to Cowcross Street by Smithfield Market, Turnmill Street to the west and St John (‘s) Street to the east.

The street seems to have been built in the late 17th century, and was probably part of the gradual growth of the City northwards, as housing and industrial premises were built over what had been the lands of St John’s Priory.

The following map extract from William Morgan’s 1682 map of London shows the area as it was with the location of Albion Place marked by the red oval, on space then occupied by what appears to be the Earl of Berkleys property.

Albion Place

When built, the street was originally called George’s Court, and had changed name to Albion Place by 1822 when the court had been rebuilt to the form seen in my father’s photo, and is presumably from when the terrace of houses date.

The growth of Clerkenwell was linked to industries such as watch and clock making and Albion Place was home to the inventor of an alloy which would reduce the price of ornate 18th century clocks.

Gold was originally sold as 18 carat standard, and was therefore expensive when used as the casing for a clock or watch. Christopher Pinchbeck, who lived in Albion Place invented an alloy of copper and zinc which very nearly resembled gold. Pinchbeck moved from Albion Place to Fleet Street in 1721.

The name “Pinchbeck” was given to this new alloy, which was widely used for the cases of clocks and watches up until the mid 19th century when the sale of lower carat gold was legalised.

By the time of Rocque’s 1746 map of London, the street that would become Albion Place was now shown on the map as George’s Court. Benjamin Street had also been built down to Turnmill Street.

Albion Place

The following photo shows Benjamin Street. Albion Place has a shallow reduction in height, which is far greater in Benjamin Street, as the land descends to what was the Fleet valley which ran just across the railway tracks into Farringdon Station, roughly along the route of Farringdon Road.

Albion Place

The following photo shows the view along Britton Street – the street originally named Red Lion Street. This is the junction that caused me to doubt whether the photo was of Albion Place as it could not be seen in my father’s photo.

Albion Place

View back up Benjamin Street and Albion Place. To the north of Benjamin Street (to the left in the following photo) is a small green space – St John’s Gardens.

Albion Place

St John’s Gardens was originally the burial ground of St John’s Church – the parish church that was in St John’s Square, and following wartime bombing, now rebuilt as the Priory Church of the Order of St John.

The area was taken on by the parish in 1754 and used until 1853 when it was closed under the Burials Act. The burial ground originally did not face directly onto Benjamin Street. As shown in the 1894 OS map earlier in this post, a line of buildings ran along Benjamin Street with St John’s Gardens being an enclosed square. This can also be seen in the 1947 photo where buildings line the far end of the street.

Today, the gardens form a valuable bit of green space.

Albion Place

Albion Place

There is a rather poignant mural in the gardens.

Albion Place

It was created by Emma Douglas in memory of her son Cato Heath who died aged twenty one in 2010. Each coloured rectangle represents a day in the life of her son, with the colour of the rectangles representing an event, for example a black rectangle for a doctor’s appointment.

The mural created by Emma in St John’s Gardens is one of a number to be found.

On the corner of Albion Place and Britton Street is a rather interesting building:

Albion Place

This is the Grade II listed 44 Britton Street originally built for Janet Street-Porter and designed by Piers Gough.

Before her career in the media, Janet Street-Porter trained at the Architects Association where she met Piers Gough. She wanted a house that did not follow the old English tradition with rooms being in well defined places. She also wanted a house that did not look too friendly and looked a bit hostile, so there is no outward facing door to the building. The entrance is tucked away at the rear of the building in a courtyard.

The bricks used in the construction are shaded, starting with dark bricks at the base, getting gradually lighter towards the top of the walls. This was to give the impression that the base of the building is in shade, with the top of the building in perpetual sunlight.

The external lintels above the windows are in the shape of concrete logs.

Janet Street-Porter lived in the house from 1988 to 2001. There is an episode of the BBC programme Building Sights dating from 1991 with Janet Street-Porter talking about, and showing the interior of the building. The programme can be found on the BBC iPlayer here – it is worth a watch.

On the opposite corner of Albion Place and Britton Street there is another interesting building. This is the Goldsmiths Centre:

Albion Place

The Goldsmiths Centre was founded by the Goldsmiths Company, one of the twelve great livery companies of the City of London, as a charity for the professional training of goldsmiths.

The centre provides a location where the technical skills of gold and silversmithing and jewelry working can be taught and developed. The building also provides support for developing business, with shared studio space in which to work.

The Goldsmiths Centre is in a rather appropriate location given the history of Clerkenwell with the trades associated with metal working.

The Goldsmiths Centre was opened in 2012. The building on the Albion Place corner is a modern addition to a Grade II Listed 1872 Victorian London Board School, which together form the Goldsmiths Centre.

The main entrance to, and the main school building is in Eagle Court which runs from Britton Street back up to St John’s Lane.

Eagle Court is shown in Rocque’s map, and in the earlier 1682 map by Morgan appears to be shown as Vinegar Yard, so Eagle Court is older than Albion Place.

The name Eagle Court comes from Eagle’s House which appears to have been a mid 14th century mansion built along the western edge of St John’s Lane. The house was named after the Templar preceptory of Eagle in Lincolnshire and acted as the Clerkenwell residence of the bailiff as the senior official of this preceptory.

The view up Eagle Court towards St John’s Lane:

Albion Place

Before the school was built, Eagle Court had long been a dense court of workshops and houses. Industrial processes being performed next to living space.

Work was dangerous and accidents were frequent. for example on December 5th, 1738 “A fire broke out in the workshop of Mr Tabery, a Japanner in Eagle Court, St John’s Lane, occasioned by the Varnish Pot boiling over. Two men were so miserably burnt that their lives are despaired of”.

The area around Albion Place and Eagle Court was densely populated and criminality was rife. The location for the school was chosen by the London School Board for this very reason, as introducing a formal education was seen as one of the means to improve the future prospects of the residents.

When the school was being built in 1873 and 1874, the workmen and the location needed a police guard to protect them and the building materials for the school from the lawless elements of the local population.

The school backs onto Albion Place, and is often referred to as being in Albion Place. The following article from April 1906 provides another example of the crime in the area which was probably heightened by the precious metals which could be found in the workshops:

“DESPERATE BURGLARS – SCHOOL CARETAKER ATTACKED WITH JEMMY. The caretaker of the London County Council School at Albion Place, Clerkenwell, was found lying in a pool of blood with his head severely cut on Saturday night under mysterious circumstances.

When the premises next door were opened the ground floor window was found to have been forced and the entire premises ransacked. The second floor was occupied by a gold refiner. Several hundred pounds worth of gold and silver were on this floor, and the men removed a considerable quantity.

It was when the burglars were leaving via the schoolyard that they were surprised by the caretaker. He was rendered unconscious by blows from a jemmy, which the men dropped.

The caretaker has not yet been able to give any account of the affair. The burglars worked leisurely, and cleaned the window before leaving to remove all traces of incriminating finger prints”.

The increasing level of workshops and industry in the area resulted in the reduction of family homes and the number of children resulting in the closure of the school in 1918.

For the rest of the 20th century, the old school buildings hosted a wide range of educational functions including Cordwainers’ Technical College, the LCC Smithfield Institute and Smithfield College of Food Technology, the College of Distributive Trades, and following a merger with the London College of Printing, the old school buildings became the London Institute.

The current use of the building as the Goldsmiths Centre therefore continues a long educational tradition, including a century of use as a technical educational centre.

Unlike many buildings created by the London School Board, the building consists of only two floors. This was intentional so as not to cast the buildings opposite in this narrow street, in permanent shadow,

Albion Place

I have walked just a few short streets, down Albion Place, along Benjamin Street, then back up to St John’s Lane via Eagle Court, but these few streets reveal their part in the long history of Clerkenwell. From the Priory of St John of Jerusalem, through the industrialisation of the 18th and 19th centuries when the area was home to watch, clock and metal working, an area of dense population with high levels of crime.

The terrace shown in my father’s photo survived until the late 1960s. If the terrace had been renovated, and if Albion Place had stayed a pedestrianised street, with bollards and cast iron lamps, this could have been a lovely street. Although, we always need to be careful when looking back at the past, and remember the lessons of Christopher Pinchbeck’s alloy that all that glitters is not gold.

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John Snow and the Soho Cholera Outbreak of 1854

Epidemiology has come to public attention as one of the key areas of expertise needed to reduce the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic has come as something of a shock given the significant reductions in disease over the last 100 plus years, although in reality, such a global event was probably only a matter of time given the background transmission of new diseases, and the interconnectedness of the world in the 21st century.

Contagious disease has long been a very significant problem. Outbreaks would rise and fall, killing many thousands of people, often in limited areas. Prior to the mid 19th century, thinking was often that disease was caused and transmitted by a miasma – a form of “bad air”.

It took the work of a number of Doctors and Scientists to prove this was not correct, and to trace the real cause of disease transmission, and one of these was Dr. John Snow, often called the founding father of Epidemiology. His work on the transmission of Cholera in London would demonstrate conclusively how this killer of large numbers of Londoners was transmitted.

The British Medical Journal describes Epidemiology as “the study of how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why. Epidemiological information is used to plan and evaluate strategies to prevent illness and as a guide to the management of patients in whom disease has already developed.”

Although John Snow’s work on Cholera covered the whole country, including outbreaks across London, he is more widely known for one outbreak in 1854 in Broad Street, Soho, and a couple of weeks ago I had a walk around the area to find the focal point of the outbreak, and the pub that bears his name:

John Snow

The John Snow pub stands on the corner of Broadwick Street (originally Broad Street) and Lexington Street (originally Cambridge Street). A number of streets in this area of Soho have changed their names since the mid 19th century.

The pub building dates from the 1870s, and was originally called the “Newcastle-upon-Tyne”, The name changed in 1955 to commemorate the centenary of the work in the area of John Snow.

He traced the source of the local Cholera outbreak to a water pump that stood in the street outside the current pub. I will detail how he did this later in the post. Today, there is an imitation pump in the same spot:

John Snow

The pump was installed in its current position in 2018, having been removed three years earlier due to building work which included extension of the pavement. The replica pump had been installed in a slightly different position to the original, and a pink granite curb stone had marked the location of the original pump.

One of the fascinations of London is that historical reminders tend to accumulate, and the pink granite curb stone was retained, and can now be seen to the left of the plinth on which the pump is mounted, now in the correct position.

The pump is also unusual in that it does not have a handle – the reason for this will be explained later in the post.

And on the pub wall is a plaque by the Royal Society of Chemistry naming John Snow as the founding father of Epidemiology for his work in the area:

John Snow

The pump and pub in Broadwick Street:

John Snow

John Snow was born in York on the 15th of March 1813. A career in medicine seems to have been defined at an early age,. When he was 14 he started work as an apprentice for William Hardcastle, a surgeon in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

He had early experience with cholera outbreaks, and during 1831 he worked on an outbreak at Killingworth Colliery. It was here that he appears to have started making detailed notes on the outbreak – gathering the data that would be essential in understanding the root cause.

He moved to London in 1836 to study at the Hunterian School of Medicine, and a year later started hospital practice at the Westminster Hospital. The following year, 1838, he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and in 1850 became a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

Doctor John Snow:

John Snow

Data gathering in 19th century London was actually rather good. The Registrar General published regular returns detailing the number of deaths by date, cause and location. Where possible, information also included age, gender and profession, so a mass of data was available for evaluation, however outdated theories often prevented the use of data to find the root cause of disease outbreaks.

London could be absolutely filthy. Much of London was not yet connected to the expanding sewer network. Houses often had cesspools directly underneath, raw sewage was pumped into the Thames, contaminated water would be dumped in the streets and ditches.

The city’s cemeteries were overflowing, with bodies piled high in crypts and churchyards.

One of the main theories was that disease was carried in dirty air. Air polluted by rotting vegetables, dirty water, the waste from industry, and from the city’s cemeteries.

There was also no real separation between drinking water and contaminated water. For example, raw sewage was pumped into the Thames, a short distance from where water was taken out for distribution to houses and pumps.

There were frequent outbreaks of cholera. 1849 being the year of the most recent outbreak, however there was also a background rate of cholera deaths happening every year.

Data recorded by the Registrar General identified the number of deaths per week, aligned with the source of water for the house where the person lived, or the death occurred. The following table shows a period of six weeks in 1854. The table focused on south London, an area where there were significant numbers of cholera deaths.:

John Snow

The table shows the source of the water supplied to each house where there was a death. The “Unknown Sources” column included a large number of houses where the residents did not know where their water came from as the landlord would pay the bill (and therefore they had no control of the source of their water).

The table implies significant problems with the supply of water by the Southwark Company, but this may have been down to a much larger population.

Much of the evaluation of the data was by John Snow. He obtained the addresses for houses where deaths had occurred from the Registrar General, and spent time going house to house to gather more information.

Evaluation of the data enabled a comparison of the mortality rate for each of the water companies to be identified, and this confirmed the issues with the Southwark Company, who had a mortality rate of 857 per 100,000 inhabitants compared with 169 and 194 for the Lambeth and Kent companies:

John Snow

The Lambeth Company had problems during a previous outbreak in 1849, but had since moved their intake from the Thames upriver to Thames Ditton, which was above the tidal limit of the river at Teddington.

At Thames Ditton, water flowed towards London and there was no wash back in of water due to the tide. This meant that water was less polluted. In central London, there was more inflow of sewage, and this was often swept back in on a rising tide, increasing significantly the level of pollution.

The Southwark Company were still drawing their water from the river at Battersea, not far from a number of sewage outlets at Vauxhall.

Lambeth was the only company to change where they took water following the 1849 outbreak. In 1854, the Southwark Water Company was classed as having the most impure waters, and would not change their water intake till later in the year.

John Snow investigated the source of water used by as many of those who died from cholera as he could find. Some of his records are truly appalling by modern standards:

  • At 4, Bermondsey Wall, on 23rd July, the daughter of a bookseller, aged 4 years, cholera 9 hours – Thames water, by dipping a pail in the water
  • At Falcon Lane, Wandsworth, on 3rd August, the daughter of a chemist deceased, aged 14 years, premonitory diarhoea 4 hours, cholera 24 hours – Water from a ditch into which cesspools empty themselves
  • At Charlotte Place, Charlotte Row, Rotherhithe, July 29th, the son of a barge-builder, aged 3 years, cholera 3 days – Tidal ditch
  • At 5 Slater’s Alley, Rotherhithe, July 29th, a labourer, aged 33, cholera 3.5 days – Thames Tunnel water, fetched from John’s Place

Rotherhithe was badly effected. and John Snow mentions Charlotte Row, Ram Alley and Silver Street as “places where the scourge fell with tremendous severity”.

He also states that Rotherhithe had been badly supplied by water for many ages past, and that people were forced to drink from old wells, old pumps, open ditches, and the muddy stream of the Thames.

Cholera deaths across London were increasing rapidly during the months leading up to the first week of September. I took the weekly total from the Registrar Generals report, put them in a spreadsheet, and created the following graph which gives a good visual view of the increase.

John Snow

So in the summer of 1854, cholera was causing deaths across the city, and John Snow was using methods that would become common in epidemiology to understand the impact, and to identify the cause. As well as the cases caused by infected water supplies, the case for which he would be remembered was an outbreak in Soho – a poor area where many of the residents were dependent on water from water pumps.

John Snow investigated the Soho outbreak, and he provided a comprehensive report to the St James, Westminster Cholera Inquiry Committee in July 1855.

Some houses in the area who could afford the cost were supplied by piped water from the Grand Junction and the New River Companies, and in houses that took this water he had found very few instances of cholera. His examination of the water pumps in the streets found the majority had impurities visible to the naked eye. Residents of Broad Street had also informed Snow that water from their local pump had an offensive smell.

At the start of his investigation, Snow requested data on deaths from the General Register Office. He found that the majority of these deaths had taken place near the Broad Street water pump, and after interviewing many of the residents found that those who had died from the disease had regularly drank water from the pump.

There was no other major outbreak in the area, and the common factor was the Broad Street water pump, so on the evening of Thursday 7th September 1854, John Snow had a meeting with the Board of Guardians of St James’s Parish and presented his findings. As a result, the handle of the pump was removed on the following day.

John Snow plotted cholera deaths on a map of the area, with the number of bars representing the number of deaths at each location. The Broad Street pump was close to the long dark line just to the right of centre of the map.

John Snow

Many of the street names have since changed. To show the number and spread of deaths on a street map of today, I have plotted the numbers on the map below. The dark blue star in the centre is the location of the pump. The numbers represent the total deaths listed for that street, so for example the number 44 to the right of the pump represents the total number of deaths in Broad Street to the left and right of the pump (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

John Snow

There were a high number of deaths in Poland Street (21), and many of these occurred at  the workhouse which is represented by the black rectangle in the above map.

Some of the deaths recorded by Snow at the workhouse are really sad, as often these would be recorded as “female unknown, age unknown”.

The workhouse is also shown in this extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey map. The pump is again marked by the dark blue star. A short distance to the right is another building that demonstrated to John Snow that the pump was the source (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

John Snow

None of the workers at the Lion Brewery caught cholera, despite being in the centre of the outbreak. On interviewing those at the brewery, it was found that “none of the workers drink water” – so perhaps they only drank beer.

John Snow wrote to the Medical Times and Gazette, describing his findings:

“I had an interview with the Board of Guardians of St. James’s parish, on the evening of the 7th, and represented the circumstances to them. In consequence of what I said, the handle of the pump was removed on the following day. The number of attacks of cholera had been diminished before this measure was adopted, but whether they had diminished in a greater proportion than might be accounted for by the flight of the great bulk of the population I am unable to say. In two or three days after the use of the water was discontinued the number of fresh attacks became very few.

The pump-well in Broad-street is from 28 to 30 feet in depth and the sewer which passes a few yards away from it is 22 feet below the surface. the sewer proceeds from Marshall-street, where some cases of cholera had occurred before the great outbreak. 

I am of the opinion that the contamination of the water of the pump-wells of large towns is a matter of vital importance. Most of the pumps in this neighbourhood yield water that is very impure; and I believe that it is merely to the accident of cholera evacuations not having passed along the sewers nearest to the wells that many localities in London near a favourite pump have escaped a catastrophe similar to that which occurred in this parish. ”

The lack of a handle on the replica pump we see today is a reminder of the work by John Snow to get the handle removed.

The affected area formed the sub districts of Golden Square and Berwick Street. The number of deaths for each street in these two districts are shown in the following tables:

John Snow

John Snow

There is other interesting data to be extracted from the Registrar General’s lists. They also include the age of each of those who had died (where known). I extracted these to a spreadsheet, sorted and created the following graph to show the numbers that died within each age range.

John Snow

The fall off at later ages is not a reflection of reduced impact of cholera, rather there were fewer people to infect in these age groups – London was a young city.

This is reflected in the high death rate of those aged between 0 and 9 years. The reduction between the ages of 10 and 29 was a surprise as there would be more people of these age groups in the area. Perhaps people of these age groups worked away from the pump, were not at the stage when they were in the workhouse, or perhaps being younger and stronger there was a higher survival rate.

The Westminster Cholera Inquiry Committee in July 1855 included a detailed investigation of the sewer and water infrastructure in the street and the house closest to the pump. The report produced by the Committee included the following drawing:

John SnowThe diagram shows how close the drains were to the well. The inquiry also examined the cesspool shown by the front of the house and the well. It found the cesspool in very poor condition, and that the mortar between the bricks of the cesspool had decayed allowing the contents to leak into the ground, only a very short distance from the well.

The report also includes the following drawing showing the front of the house, the vaults underneath the pavement, drain and well.

John Snow

The Westminster Cholera Inquiry Committee report of July 1855 includes a substantial section from the Reverend Henry Whitehead who was assistant curate of St Luke’s Church in Soho during the 1854 outbreak. Whitehead had assisted John Snow with many of the interviews of those living in the streets around the water pump.

Whitehead had initially been sceptical about the cause of the outbreak, being a believer of the miasma theory however he came to the same conclusions as Snow, and was very diligent in his research and interviews of the population.

In his report to the committee, Henry Whitehead  recorded the challenges of follow-up research as so many people had moved out of Broad Street, and that approaching the summer of 1855 there was a general feeling of uneasiness in the street – concern that cholera would once again return with warmer weather.

Henry Whitehead identified two houses opposite the pump. One had deaths from cholera and confirmed that they took water from the pump. The adjacent house used water from the New River Company and had no illness.

Although the initial findings to identify the source of the outbreak concentrated on deaths, the follow-up inquiry found that there were 50 cases where people had survived.

John Snow’s map shows the water pumps of the area. I plotted these on a modern day map to show where the water pumps of 1854 would have been located on today’s streets. Again, the Broad Street pump is the dark blue star, red stars the other water pumps:

John Snow

Comparing the above map with the map of deaths does again show the high values clustered around the Broad Street pump, with lower numbers as other water pumps became closer.

Broad Street is today named Broadwick Street. the name change happened in 1936 when the eastern section leading to Wardour Street was included – this small section had formerly been called Edward Street (named after Edward Wardour who also gave his name to Wardour Street).

Much of Broadwick Street has changed since the cholera outbreak of 1854, however almost opposite the John Snow pub is a terrace of houses that were there, having been built between 1718 and 1723 as part of the westwards expansion of Broad Street. The terrace is shown in the following photo:

John Snow

The following photo shows the view looking west along Broadwick Street from close to the Berwick Street junction. The Lion Brewery, which did not have any cholera deaths as none of the workers drank water, occupied the block on the left which now has the brick facing to the upper floors. The brewery was demolished in 1937.

John Snow

On the corner of Broadwick Street and Berwick Street is the Blue Posts pub. The current rather attractive building dates from a 1914 rebuild, however there had been a pub on the site since the original development of the area, and it is shown on the 1894 OS map.

John Snow

A rather obscure claim to fame for the Blue Posts pub is that a model of the pub was destroyed by a brontosaurus in the 1925 film Lost World. The following clip shows the pub just before the brontosaurus crashes in and demolishes the building.

John Snow

Apparently the animators, who created a rather impressive animated film for the 1920s, drank in the pub they chose to destroy for the film.

Lantern over the corner of the Blue Posts pub:

John Snow

View down Berwick Street showing how a present day pandemic has effected the restaurant trade in Soho:

John Snow

North western corner of Broadwick Street and Berwick Street with demolished building leaving only the corner façade for inclusion in whatever comes next:

John Snow

Further back towards Wardour Street, and the following building is on the corner of Broadwick Street (the part that was Edward Street), and Duck Lane, which being towards the Wardour Street end of Broad Street “only” suffered two deaths during the outbreak of 1854.

John Snow

The ground floor of the building is occupied by the Sounds of the Universe record store:

John Snow

John Snow’s work was not only around research into the causes of cholera. He was a practicing physician at the Westminster Hospital, and also worked on the technique of anesthesia including how different doses of anesthetic effected the human body.

When Queen Victoria gave birth to Prince Leopold in 1853 and Princess Beatrice in 1857, it was John Snow who administered the obstetric anesthesia.

During the 1854 outbreak he was living at 18 Sackville Street, off Piccadilly. He was a teetotaler and vegetarian for much of his life. He died in 1858 at the young age of 45.

For further reading, the report on the cholera outbreak in the Parish of St. James, Westminster, during the autumn of 1854 can be found in the Wellcome Library collection here.

The second edition of John Snow’s “On the mode of communication of cholera” can be found on Google Books here.

Reading these publications really does make you appreciate the engineering, rules and regulations that are behind the clean water when you do something as simple as turn on a tap.

And the next time an epidemiologist comes on the TV or Radio to talk about the current pandemic, think about John Snow, knocking on doors across London, gathering data on the many cholera outbreaks of the mid 19th century.

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Broad Street Station – A Lost London Station

London has lost a number of stations on the rail network over the years, for example I have written about Spa Road Station in Bermondsey, but they are usually stations serving trains that pass through the station, rather than a terminal station. One lost station that was a terminus for the North London Railway was Broad Street Station.

The station was demolished in 1986, and just as work was about to start, I took a couple of photos of the front and side of the building from Liverpool Street.

Broad Street Station

The station was replaced by the Broadgate office complex. The following photo shows the same view today:

Broad Street Station

The history of Broad Street Station starts in 1850 when the North London Railway started running services between Camden Town and Poplar.

The line was extended, firstly to Hampstead in 1851 and in 1858 this was followed by a connection with the London and South Western Railway to Richmond.

Although the railway circled around north London, it did not have a route into the City, and a City terminus was seen as essential to drive additional goods and passenger traffic from the expanding northern suburbs. The extension into the City and Broad Street Station was opened in late 1865 as the central London terminus of the North London Railway.

An indication of the volume of different types of traffic carried by the railway can be found from the directors report of the North London Railway in 1865, covering the year before the opening of Broad Street Station:

Broad Street Station

The higher value and greater increase over the previous year of Merchandise and Minerals than Passengers perhaps reflects the importance of the connection with the London Docks, and the lack of a connection directly into the City of London.

In the same Directors Report, the chief engineer for the extension to Broad Street states the current situation with construction of the station, and the route between Broad Street and the existing North London Railway at Kingsland:

“I have now the pleasure of being able to report that the whole of the works on the City Branch, between Kingsland and Broad-street, are complete, with the exception of the permanent way and signals, upon which the contractors are at present busily engaged. The stations at Dalston and Shoreditch are nearly ready for occupation, and the office-buildings, platforms and roofs at Broad-street station have made considerable progress since February last, but recently these works have been retarded by the strike amongst Messrs. Cubitt’s workmen, Every effort is being made to open this railway for public traffic at the earliest possible period”.

Broad Street station and the route into the station was sufficiently completed to open in the last months of 1865, and the following year the North London Railway company was able to advertise special trains which took advantage of the route around north London and down to the west:

“NORTH LONDON RAILWAY – OXFORD and CAMBRIDGE BOAT RACE. Saturday, March 24th, 1866 – A SPECIAL TRAIN will leave Broad Street Station at 6.35 a.m. for Hammersmith, calling at all intermediate stations and arriving at Hammersmith at 7.40 a.m.”

Broad Street station was built in the heart of the City, and provided a route for passengers and goods from multiple stations circling north London. The location of the station was directly to the west of the larger Liverpool Street Station.

The following map from 1940 shows the location of Broad Street Station:

Broad Street Station

Liverpool Street Station rail tracks headed east, whilst Broad Street’s headed north with the first stop being the original Shoreditch Station on the north west corner of the Kingsland Road / Old Street junction.

My second photo of the station again shows the main building of Broad Street Station, slightly further to the east than the first photo. The road that dived down between Broad Street and Liverpool Street stations can be seen running down alongside Hills, whilst in one of the open arches to the right of the station, an orange crane can seen, working on the station’s demolition.

Broad Street Station

The 1865 directors report demonstrated the significant value of goods being transported on the North London Railway, and whilst new passengers were an important source of revenue for the new Broad Street Station, the transport of goods directly into the City would also continue to drive revenue for the railway company.

A large Goods Station was constructed to the west of the passenger station as can be seen in the following extract from the 1894 Ordnance Survey map (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’):

Broad Street Station

The map also shows the relative size of Broad Street compared to the adjacent Liverpool Street Station. Liverpool Street was considerably larger with many more platforms.

The above map shows that the warehouses associated with the Broad Street Goods Station faced onto Eldon Street. The end of these warehouses came in January 1952 when a major fire destroyed the warehouses. It was the most significant fire in London since the war and three firemen lost their lives following a collapse of one of the warehouse walls.

The loss of the warehouses added to the general sense that Broad Street Station was in a terminal decline.

The peak of the station’s success was probably around the time of the above Ordnance Survey map, at the end of the 19th century. North London was being well served by underground routes, buses and trams, and the popularity of Broad Street Station, on the end of a relatively slow, stopping route, was in decline.

The station, and the lines running out of the station were damaged by wartime bombing and the reduction of local services started with the cessation of trains to Poplar. The station building was not repaired and much of the main building was closed in 1950, leaving just an entrance from the street onto the concourse. Just two platforms continued to operate.

The following photo from the Britain from Above archive, shows the station and the lines running out of Broad Street in 1947. Broad Street passenger station is in the lower centre of the photo. The tracks for the goods station are on the left with the goods warehouse on the left of the photo. The larger Liverpool Street station is on the lower right.

Broad Street Station

Broad Street station survived the Beeching Report, however the stopping services that ran into the station were identified as services for modification, and the gradual cease of services accelerated throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

Plans for the demolition of the station started in the 1970s and a number of schemes were put forward for the use of a considerable area of prime land at the eastern edge of the City’s business area.

In 1975, British Rail proposed a scheme that would not only demolish Broad Street Station, but would also demolish the Great Eastern Hotel and the cast iron train sheds above the platforms of Liverpool Street.

Liverpool Street as a station would remain, but the station, and the surrounding area, including the land occupied by Broad Street Passenger and Goods Stations would be built over, with office blocks now dominating the area.

The following photo shows British Rail’s 1975 scheme. The tracks running into Liverpool Street Station can be seen heading underneath a plaza and office blocks.

Broad Street Station

The Liverpool Street Station Campaign proposed an alternative solution which would retain most of the existing Liverpool Street Station, the train sheds and the façade of Broad Street Station.

Other campaigns were more concerned about the transport options than the architecture. For example, in 1982:

“Tory MP Anthony Grant and Harrow Liberal councilor Stephen Giles Medhurst have joined forces to try and make British Rail change plans to demolish Broad Street Station in the City.

The pair met BR representatives at the House of Commons to give their objections to the plan for Broad Street, which is the terminus for a frequent service from Watford Junction through Harrow and Wealdstone and Kenton.

Mr. Grant, MP for Harrow Central, said: ‘I am satisfied that in the long term the service will be maintained to Broad Street and Liverpool Street when the new station is built, but this will take six years.

Meanwhile, my constituents who work in the City will suffer hardship through being dropped off at a temporary station nearly half a mile away’.

Cllr Giles-Medhurst, a regular user of the line, said ‘I’m pleased to say that as a result of our meeting they undertook to reconsider improving the interchange facilities at Highbury to make it easier to change to the Moorgate line or to provide a shuttle bus service from the temporary station to Broad Street in peak hours”.

There had been earlier schemes for the redevelopment of Broad Street and Liverpool Street stations. In 1944 an exhibition at the Incorporated Association of Architects and Surveyors in Eaton Place hosted an exhibition of drawings by Mr. Kenneth Lindy and Mr. B.A.P. Winton Lewis showing their proposals for the re-planning of the City of London.

Their proposals transformed London into a future version from a science fiction film, and probably highlight the thinking at the time that the bombed City offered the opportunity for a sweeping change, with the car, towers and wide boulevards at the heart of the scheme. Their proposal for Broad Street and Liverpool Street stations is shown in the following drawing. The railway lines and platforms would move underground. Hotel and office buildings on top, and high above would be landing platforms for a gyroplane passenger service.

Thankfully, these 1944 proposals never got any further than the exhibition.

The eventual scheme for rebuilding involved the full demolition of Broad Street Passenger and Goods Station, but retained Charles Barry’s Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street and part of the train sheds above the platforms of Liverpool Street station.

The go ahead was given in 1985 as reported by the Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush Gazette:

“Commuters lose rail link with the City – The final nail in the coffin of West London’s rail link with the City. 

Secretary of State for Transport, Nicholas Ridley has agreed to the closure of the North London line between Dalston Junction and Broad Street stations.

The closure will come in May 1986, when Broad Street and Liverpool Street stations will be redeveloped. Commuters travelling from Acton and Chiswick will be among the first to be affected by the change.

From next Monday, May 13, their service will be diverted from Broad Street to North Woolwich. Passengers bound for the City will have to change at Islington and Highbury. There will be no through rail link from West London to the City”.

The Conservative government of the 1980s did not seem very supportive of the railways. It was the same Nicholas Ridley who in 1985 oversaw bus deregulation and the privatisation of bus services. There was even talk of closing rail lines and using the routes for dedicated bus services. I remember one TV commentator at the time suggesting that if they did this, with the number of buses needed to bring commuters into London, it would soon be recognised that it was more efficient to connect all the busses together and run them on a dedicated track.

The Broadgate office complex was built over the land once occupied by the Broad Street stations.

The original North London Line is now part of the London Overground network.

The empty concourse of Broad Street Station as it would frequently appear in 1975.

Broad Street Station

Where did the name Broad Street come from as the station faced directly onto Liverpool Street?

Broad Street originally ran from London Wall to Threadneedle Street. An extension up from London Wall was named New Broad Street. The whole street today is called Old Broad Street.

I have marked the location of the passenger and goods station on Rocque’s map of 1746 and we can see New Broad Street extending up to the corner of the station and Broad Street Buildings running under where the main station building would be constructed.

Broad Street Station

The front of the main station building was over an interesting feature – Bethlem Burying Ground.

This was the “New Churchyard” which opened in 1569 and later became known as the Bedlam or Bethlem burying ground. The burial ground was used for well over 100 years, finally closing for burials in 1739.

The graveyard was disturbed during the construction of Broad Street Station, however no archaeological investigation was carried out. This was the mid 19th century and the City’s churchyards were being emptied as quickly as possible due to the conditions of these places in a growing City.

In parallel to the demolition of Broad Street Station, the Museum of London Department of Urban Archaeology carried out a detailed investigation with according to the museum’s web site “Several hundred skeletons were reburied on site and a sample c. 400 individuals were retained for research”.

The site has again been investigated as part of the preparations for Crossrail, and 3,300 burials were uncovered. Testing of five of the skeletons identified the plague pathogen, apparently the first time that plaque DNA from the 16th and 17th centuries has been identified in the UK.

In my 1986 photo at the start of the post, there is a busy road in front of Broad Street Station. This road was closed off for a few years as a work site for Crossrail. Liverpool Street will be one of Crossrail’s stations, so although Broad Street Station is long gone, the area continues to be an important transportation hub.

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Millbank Estate and Millbank Penitentiary

I have a postcard with a photo dated 1906 of the recently completed London County Council, Millbank Estate. The view shows some of the new blocks of flats, wide streets, newly planted trees, and children – probably residents of the new estate.

Millbank Estate

The same view in September 2020:

Millbank Estate

The trees have grown and now obscure the view of the blocks of flats. The wide streets now have parked cars, and the children in the view went on to see and hopefully survive, two world wars.

Remove the cars, see through the trees and the two views are much the same.

Both photos were taken at the south western end of the estate, looking north east. The street in front of the camera is Cureton Street and Erasmus Street is on the left and Herrick Street on the right.

The Millbank Estate is a large estate, built at the start of the 20th century, to provide flats for the working class. The estate was designed to accommodate upwards of 4,430 people in a number of separate blocks.

A map of the estate is displayed on a number of panels across the estate:

Millbank Estate

The Millbank Estate is adjacent to the Tate Britain gallery which was opened a couple of years before work started on the Millbank Estate, and the artistic theme of the Tate was extended to the new housing estate as each of the blocks was named after an artist. The full list of names is shown on the lower right of the above panel.

The Millbank Estate was built between 1897 and 1902 by the London County Council and was one of their most significant estates in terms of size and design. It was designed within the LCC’s Architects Department under Owen Fleming and was influenced by the arts and crafts style of design.

The estate is stunning on a sunny day, when the colour of the brick brings a richness to the buildings. The trees – which I assume from their size were planted at the time of the estate’s construction – break up the sunlight and leave patterns on the walls of the blocks.

The trees are regularly pollarded, when their branches are cut back significantly leaving stumps pointing at the sky, but they always grow back and enhance the view.

The view along St Oswulf Street with Hogarth House at the end of the street:

Millbank Estate

The area occupied by the Millbank Estate has a fascinating history. On land to the west of the River Thames, between Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges, it was a large area to be free for building at the end of the 19th century. In the map below, the red rectangle shows the approximate area occupied by the estate (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Millbank Estate

The area occupied by the Millbank estate, and indeed the Tate Gallery was available for new development because of the demolition of a large establishment that had previously the same space.

In the following extract from the 1847 edition of Reynolds’s New Map of London, there is a structure with a rather unusual design in the lower centre of the map. This was the Millbank Penitentiary or Prison.

Millbank Estate

Millbank Penitentiary opened in 1816 and was in use until 1886, and was demolished by 1890. The shape was unusual for the time, with six individual pentagons of cells radiating out from the central governor’s block.

The pentagon design enabled the whole of the prison to be viewed from the central governor’s block.

The prison was initially designed to hold 1,000 prisoners, however as always seems to be the way with prisons, the population was frequently much higher.

Each of the pentagons was home to different types of prisoner. Writing about the prisons of London in 1862, Henry Mayhew and John Binny identified pentagon one as being the reception wing. Number two being for prisoners to work at various trades in their cells. Pentagon three was for women prisoners. Pentagon four housed the infirmary, along with a mix of different prisoners. Number five had individual cells, but also had shared cells which prisoners often preferred for the company and conversation instead of the individual cells.

Mayhew and Binny do not list the functions of the sixth pentagon, but looking at the diagram of the prison in the book, the sixth pentagon was were you would find the surgeon and the chaplain, with a corn mill in the centre.

Birds-eye drawing of Millbank Penitentiary:

Millbank Estate

Millbank Penitentiary was often used as a holding prison before prisoners moved onto other establishments. This included a period where prisoners sentenced to transportation were held at Millbank before boarding ship.

Mayhew and Binny’s book states that in 1854, 2,461 male prisoners passed through Millbank.

Six hundred and ninety seven remained at the end of the year. During the year, prisoners had been moved to other prions. One thousand and ninety five prisoners had been moved to sites of “public works” projects across the country. Of the total number of prisoners passing through Millbank in 1854, only four were pardoned, had a conditional pardon, or were set free.

One hundred and ninety eight female prisoners were in Millbank at the start of 1854, but by the end of the year they had all been moved to Brixton Prison apart from nineteen who had been discharged and one who had died.

Conditions were harsh for the prisoners at Millbank. The location next to the River Thames must have meant the prison could be very cold and damp in winter. The prison also suffered a cholera outbreak. Prisoners would also be transported or held in irons, and the prison had a Chain Room where the implements to restrain prisoners were stored:

Millbank Estate

The following print shows the main entrance to the prison, with some of the prison wings behind the walls. This must have been drawn from the edge of the river, and shows the road running towards Westminster on the right, between prison and river.

Millbank Estate

I have mapped the location of Millbank Penitentiary on the map of the area today in the following map extract.

Millbank Estate

The Tate Gallery, Millbank Estate and a number of other buildings now occupy the site today, but does anything remain of the prison?

In the above map, I have added a red oval to the rear of the houses that face onto Ponsonby Place. This is the boarder with the south western edge of the Millbank Estate, and Wilkie House is the block that was built with the rear of the block facing the rear of the houses in Ponsonby Place.

There is a gap between the rear of Wilkie House and the houses to the west as shown in the following photo:

Millbank Estate

Look over the railings into the gap, and we can see the ditch and sloping wall of the original Millbank Penitentiary:

Millbank Estate

The City of Westminster Conservation Area Audit states about the ditch and wall:

“Of great importance is the octagonal shape of the former Millbank Penitentiary site, not only for its definition of the shape of the conservation area but also for the surviving sections of wall. This is an important historical and townscape characteristic of the area.”

The Millbank Penitentiary really deserves a dedicated post, so I will continue with my exploration of the Millbank Estate.

Families were a significant percentage of those living in the estate, so there was a need to provide schools for such a large estate and two were built at the same time as the housing blocks.

The two schools are both in Erasmus Street on the western side of the estate. The first one comes into view:

Millbank Estate

On the side of the first school is a rather ornate decoration stating Millbank Schools and the year of construction, 1901. In the centre are the initials LSB. These are not the initials of a person, rather the initials are of the London School Board who were responsible for the construction of the schools and it was their architects who produced the designs.

Millbank Estate

The fount of the first school facing onto Erasmus Street:

Millbank Estate

Further along is the infant school, also by the London School Board:

Millbank Estate

Plaque confirming  this building as the infants school:

Millbank Estate

There are entrances and playgrounds at each side of the school building. A stone arch with the word “infants” provides access:

Millbank Estate

The reason for the two schools becomes apparent as you walk around the estate and realise the size, number of flats and how many children must have lived across the estate.

Between the main blocks of flats there are large courtyards, providing a very child friendly play area:

Millbank Estate

The blocks are not a monolithic design, they have plenty of individual features which break up the brick. In this view, staggered windows provide light to internal stairs:

Millbank Estate

Despite the large scale of the estate, there are small features dotted across the blocks, such as this small corner window:

Millbank Estate

Following photo shows the view looking up the central part of Hogarth House, with a curving, triangular roof line, and long balcony:

Millbank EstateThe Millbank Estate is Grade II listed, however Hogarth House has a higher Grade II* listing. It was the first block to be started in 1899 and the design of Hogarth House by the architects Henry Spalding and Alfred Cross was the winning design in the competition run by the London County Council Architects Department for the design of the estate.

A living room in Hogarth House was photographed in 1909, not long after the building opened.

Millbank Estate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0832_70_1063

Being almost 120 years old, the Millbank Estate has been through a number of renovations. The condition of the flats had deteriorated by the late 1940s, and there were renovations throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The following photo shows a living room in Millais House in 1962.

Millbank Estate

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_02_0832_62_1623

The coal fire has by now been replaced with an electric fire, and the flats have moved into the television age.

The 1909 photo shows a well furnished Edwardian living room, and looking at the census data we can get an impression of the residents of the Millbank Estate (I was going to produce some detailed tables, but ran out of time).

Many or the residents were working / professional people, London County Council employees, Policemen, Workers from the nearby gas works (there were gas holders just to the west of the estate) and also at the Army and Navy Co-Operative Stores both on the Millbank river front, and at the end of the nearby Johnson Street – a street that has since been built over.

There were also residents who had come from the West End following the demolition of many of the slum housing in the area. LCC building was frequently to provide housing for those who had been moved following many of the late 19th century improvement schemes.

Despite this range of jobs, many of the newspaper reports of the opening of the estate still classed the new residents as poor. For example, this report from February 1906 was titled “The King And The Poor”:

“The King visited Millbank on Wednesday and inspected the model dwellings the London County Council had erected on a portion of the site of old Millbank Prison. The Queen accompanied his Majesty. The Royal party left Buckingham Palace at three o’clock in open landaus. The occasion was regarded as semi-private, but thousands of people collected near the point where the reception was to take place. The schools in the neighbourhood were given a half-holiday, and many of the children assembled to see the King.

As to the buildings, the King said they appeared light and comfortable, and these qualities were all the more striking in view of what he saw when visiting some of the lowest slum districts a few years ago. He sincerely hoped that the Council’s scheme would result in nothing but good to those whom it was sought to benefit.”

The Queen’s main concern appears to have been the lack of cupboards in the kitchen, and those who guided the Royal party around the estate promised they would look into the matter with urgency.

As well as the architectural features across the Millbank blocks, it is also worthwhile looking down at the ground, as across the estate are these LCC access covers, dated 1900, so from the original construction of the estate:

Millbank Estate

The inspiration of the arts and craft movement to the design of the estate is apparent in many of the features, such as the entrances to the blocks:

Millbank Estate

View between the blocks of Reynolds House, showing the distinctive chequer board patterns of the housing scheme in Vincent Street built for the Grosvenor Estate in the 1920s:

Millbank Estate

Another example of staggered windows:

Millbank Estate

The external condition of the Millbank Estate today is very good, and the estate has been through a number of renovations, however this has not always been the case. In 1947 the West London Press reported on a tenants’ protest and a Millbank Estate petition:

“A petition signed by 600 tenants of the Millbank Housing Estate, protesting about the conditions there, was handed by Mrs Lawler of 5 Morland Buildings to Communist L.C.C. member Jack Gaster when a crowded meeting of 200 Millbank Estate tenants was held at Millbank School recently.

Cllr. Gaster will hand the petition to the L.C.C. when their meeting takes place at County Hall next Tuesday.

The petition, which Mrs. Lawler said had met with great support throughout the estate, asks the L.C.C. to provide suitable storage facilities for the storage of coal, so that tenants can build up adequate supplies for the winter months. It also asks for the erection of pram-sheds in the yards to safeguard young mothers from undue strain in pulling prams up many flights of stairs.

The need for the L.C.C. to take immediate steps regarding essential repairs and decorations and to provide labour and materials for cleaning stairs and windows are also stressed in the petition, while a plea is made for railings to enclose the yards to keep children off the streets.”

The L.C.C. did agree that the work was needed, but did not expect the work to completed for a while due to post war shortages of materials and labour.

I suspect that the following photo shows that one of the requests from the tenants of 1947 was delivered, with the provision of pram sheds in the courtyards between the blocks:

Millbank Estate

Many of the internal courtyards have been decorated with plants and flowers which provide a lovely contrast to the brick of the blocks of flats.

Millbank Estate

Internal courtyard with plants and lamp post:

Millbank Estate

The Millbank Estate was built for the working class, and it is interesting how the influx of the new residents changed the demographic of the area. The Morning Post on the 11th January 1906 noted the impact the new estate could have on the General Election, and the re-election of the Conservative MP Mr. W. Burdett-Coutts who had held the Westminster seat for the past 20 years:

“The struggle is rendered the more interesting from the fact that the character of the constituency has greatly altered since the last election. The present electorate is 7,530, and the extensions of artisans’ dwellings on the Millbank Estate and the City of Westminster Council buildings in Regency-street has increased the working class vote to 5,000. This important fact, together with the general effect of the swinging of the political pendulum, and the prejudice raised against the late Government on education, fiscal and other questions, induce the Liberals to think they have a good opportunity of winning the borough in which the Houses of Parliament and so many other important buildings are included.”

Burdett-Coutts did not have to worry, as he won the 1906 election, and would go on to hold the Westminster seat until it was abolished in the 1918 election.

This is Maclise House with the Millbank Tower in the background:

Millbank Estate

Maclise House is one of the blocks on the Millbank Estate that has this wonderful doorway – it almost looks as if it is providing a portal into another world.

Millbank Estate

Note how above the entrance doorway, there is the stairway that juts out from the wall, ending at the top with a curved roof.

View back across the courtyard of Maclise House:

Millbank Estate

This is the view from the north-eastern end of the estate. I am standing by Marsham Street, which turns left in front of the camera. Herrick Street then on the left and Erasmus Street on the right.

Millbank Estate

There was relatively little bomb damage to the Millbank Estate. Where there was damage it was well repaired – this included the side of the building directly facing the camera in the above photo.

Those children in the 1906 photo at the top of the post could therefore step straight back into the estate and notice few differences – the main changes being almost 120 years of tree growth and parked cars now lining all the streets.

Externally, the housing blocks look impressive and in a well maintained condition. I talked with a few residents in the courtyards and they appeared very happy with their flats.

The London County Council’s Millbank Estate is a far better use of the land than the Millbank Penitentiary that previously occupied the site, however it is good that we can still find a physical reminder of the prison on the boundary of the estate, which shows how the shape of the prison influenced the space occupied by the estate, built by the London County Council for the working class of London.

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Jubilee Gardens and the World’s Longest Safety Poster

In July 1979, the Jubilee Gardens on the south bank of the River Thames near Waterloo Station and County Hall, was the location for the World’s Longest Safety Poster:

Jubilee Gardens

I took a couple of photos during a lunch time wander along the south bank:

Jubilee Gardens

The poster was an attempt on the world record, although a search of the online database of the Guinness Book of Records does not bring up any reference, although they do not have data online of all records, and this was 41 years ago.

1979 was the Year of the Child, and 360 children from across the country painted individual posters over a four day period, each showing a different aspect of safety, of the emergency services, or some other form of safety message relevant to a child.

The combined posters measured 800ft by 10ft and circled around the central green space of the Jubilee Gardens.

When I photographed the scene, the Jubilee Gardens were two years old. As their name suggests they were created in 1977 to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and they quickly became a popular lunchtime spot for the thousands of workers in the Greater London Council, County Hall, or the Shell Centre buildings – the two large office complexes on two sides of the gardens.

To the east of the park (just visible to the right of the first photo), there was a small stage area, and lunchtime concerts were organised by the GLC.

When weather was not so good, for the rest of the working day, and at weekends, the Jubilee Gardens were quiet. County Hall’s conversion into a hotel and centre for tourist attractions, along with the London Eye were still some decades in the future.

The Jubilee Gardens were closed for a number of years during the 1990s as they were one of the construction sites for the Jubilee Line extension which runs slightly to the west between Westminster and Waterloo Stations. An access shaft was dug in the centre of the gardens down to the level of the tunnel workings.

I often wonder if the access shaft is still there, below the surface, when ever I walk across the gardens.

After the gardens were reopened, they did deteriorate somewhat, but underwent a major redesign and restoration project, reopening in 2012, and it is these gardens we see today:

Jubilee Gardens

As well as the design of the gardens, their surroundings have changed considerably over the years, and the people who probably make most use of the gardens today are not office workers, they are more likely to be tourists.

The GLC was disbanded in 1986, and the buildings now host functions mainly aimed at the tourist industry.

Shell have sold off most of the space originally occupied by their offices with today only the tower remaining. New apartment towers have recently shot up around the original Shell tower. The following photo shows the southern edge of the Jubilee Gardens:

Jubilee Gardens

The view across the gardens from the northern edge, adjacent to the Embankment walkway:

Jubilee Gardens

The London Eye now dominates the view across the Jubilee Gardens:

Jubilee Gardens

The Jubilee Gardens as an open space date back to just after the Festival of Britain which occupied the site in 1951. The Shell Centre complex was built on part of the Festival site between Belvedere Road and York Road, construction being between the years of 1957 and 1962.

Part of the plan for the development of the south bank was to leave the space between the Shell tower and the river as open space, enabling an unobstructed view of the tower down to ground floor foyer level from the north bank of the river. The following photo from 1978 shows the view. I took this in the spring so the trees are only just starting to come into leaf, so the gardens are almost invisible from the north bank.

Jubilee Gardens

From the closure of the Festival of Britain, until the creation of the Jubilee Gardens in 1977, the site was a temporary car park – temporary in that it was never properly constructed as a car park, the space was just for this purpose until a long term use could be found (and financed).

The Jubilee Gardens were part of the Jubilee Celebrations along the South Bank in July 1977, when there were a number of short, informal performances, and if you had been in the gardens on either the 2nd or 9th of July, you could have seen “Morley College Choir, Tilford Bach Festival Choir, Morley Meridian Choir, Morley Brass Band, Morley Jazz Orchestra, along with performances of opera, early music groups with folk, court, ballet and modern dancing”. Morley College is a specialist provider of adult education, founded to address the learning needs of Waterloo and Lambeth, hence the local connection with Jubilee Gardens.

The gardens were the scene of a number of demonstrations during the 1980s. Marches demonstrating against unemployment in the early 1980s and during the miners strike of 1984 to 1985 there were rallies and demonstrations by miners and supporting trades unions in the gardens.

The view across the Jubilee Gardens in 1980.

Jubilee Gardens

The stage area can be seen on the right. The area on the left was still used as a car park. I doubt that anyone at the time could have imagined the London Eye being central to this view.

However, as well as being close to the London Eye, the area was the location for one of the key structures of the Festival of Britain, when the Dome of Discovery occupied the space now occupied by the Jubilee Gardens as can be seen in the following photo:

Jubilee Gardens

In the above photo, the buildings of County Hall that now face onto the gardens are seen on the lower right of the photo.

The following photo shows the construction of the Royal Festival Hall (in the foreground) and the Dome of Discover, with the buildings of County Hall in the background to confirm that the Jubilee Gardens now occupy the same space as the Dome of Discovery.

Jubilee Gardens

One of the reasons that the south bank site was chosen for the Festival of Britain was that the area had been very badly damaged during the war. During, and just after the war, many of the buildings on the site of the Jubilee Gardens had been demolished, with all that remained being a growing pile of rubble, as shown in the following photo by my father – again the buildings of County Hall confirm the location.

Jubilee Gardens

The site was completely cleared as shown in the following remarkable photo, which shows the area now occupied by the Jubilee Gardens cleared down to what was probably the original ground level when this was all marsh land.

Jubilee Gardens

The river must have flooded over the area at high tide – which explains why if you are at ground level at the edge of the side of County Hall facing the gardens, there appears to be an extension of the Embankment wall running inland alongside the building. It was to keep the Thames out.

This was the first area cleared for the construction of the Festival of Britain, as on the other side of Hungerford Railway Bridge, just behind the Shot Tower is the Lion Brewery, which would also soon be demolished.

Before the war, the area now occupied by the Jubilee Gardens was mainly warehousing and industrial. A large warehouse – the Government India Stores – occupied the site, along with a now lost street – Jenkins Street, as shown in the following map extract (again the buildings of County Hall provide a point of reference).

Jubilee Gardens

The Government India Stores, or the India Stores Depot was built in 1862 on land leased by the Secretary of State for India. The purpose of the building was to hold goods that had been purchased in the UK by the Government of India, prior to shipping to India.

By the end of the 19th century, this was getting to be a dubious exercise with questions being asked in Parliament about why the Government of India was purchasing goods in the UK which could also easily be purchased in India, and would benefit the Indian economy.

My father photographed the post war remains of the Government India Stores prior to demolition:

Jubilee Gardens

The area occupied by the Jubilee Gardens has long been an industrial site. The following extract from Rocque’s map of London from 1746 shows the sweep of the river as it curves down to Westminster Bridge at lower left.

Jubilee Gardens

Where Westminster Bridge lands on the right side of the river, a street named Narrow Wall runs north. The site of the Jubilee Gardens are roughly to the left of the word ‘Wall’. The map shows that the area of land between Narrow Wall and the river was the first to be developed.

Before any buildings had occupied the site, the area had been marsh, and part of the river foreshore. The name Narrow Wall probably refers to an embankment between the river and the land, with a roadway of some basic form running along the embankment.

Just south of the site of Jubilee Gardens, where County Hall is now located and long before any building occupied the location, a Roman Boat was found during the construction of County Hall:

Jubilee GardensImage credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_04_15_53_27D

So the area around Jubilee Gardens has a long history and it is intriguing to imagine the Roman boat beached on the foreshore of the Thames and gradually sinking into the mud.

The Jubilee Gardens have seen the dramatic rise in tourism over the last few decades, although they are relatively quiet today as London is still missing the millions of tourists that visit the city.

Their location has seen the London County Council and the Greater London Council come and go, along with the construction of the Jubilee Line extension, the Dome of Discovery and the Festival of Britain. The site has been bombed and was the location of a warehouse for goods bound for India.

They have been the site for demonstrations, a wide range of entertainments, and a green space for office workers to spend summer lunchtimes – and possibly the record breaking World’s Longest Safety Poster,

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